Monticello girls' basketball coach Josh McElheney decided to play some mind games with his team on Friday, wearing a Western Albemarle football sweatshirt at practice.
McElheney's Mustangs were getting ready for a third meeting with the Western girls' basketball team, in Saturday's Region II, Division 3 championship game.
"Oh, it's a lot of fun," McElheney said of the rivalry between the two programs. "We could probably switch benches and I could coach his and he could coach mine and we probably wouldn't miss a beat on either end."
Monticello took both meetings with the Warriors during the regular season, on the way to a perfect season in Jefferson District play. But after a pair of closes losses in those games, the Warriors see Saturday's game as a chance at some payback.
"Both games were really close," Western coach Kris Wright recalled at practice on Friday. "The game here, it was tied with four minutes to go; over there it was tied with 10 seconds to go. So it's motivating any time your rival beats you, but we know they're motivated too.
"One of us is going to win our first regional championship."
Both teams already clinched spots in next week's Division 3 state tournament with wins in Thursday's Region II semifinals. Monticello beat Heritage-Leesburg 50-40, while Western advanced with a 51-26 win against Handley.
That win clinched Western's second state tournament appearance in three seasons. But the Warriors say they're focused on winning a region title.
"It would mean a lot. It would be just so exciting," Western senior guard Emily Marbury said. "That's definitely another motivator going into this game, being the first team to win a regional title here."
"We've been to the regional semifinals before, we've been close before, but we've never actually gotten to the top of that mountain in the regional round," said Wright. "So it would be really cool to do that. And it would be a really big accomplishment for this particular group."
"About two years ago we were there. We lost, and it was heartbreaking," said Western senior guard Kathryn Crickenberger. "But this year it would be awesome, too, since we're playing Monticello."
It's already been a historic season for the Mustangs, who haven't lost a game since late December. Thursday's win clinched the program's first-ever berth in a state tournament.
"I think last night was the first night they really felt like they accomplished something," McElheney said. "As good as the season's been, had we not won last night it would have kind of been all for naught. And it's a great feeling. They walked around school all day excited, but I think they really want this tomorrow."
"Honestly, it's one of those things where you sit and lay in bed at night and think, "Wow we've come this far," said Monticello sophomore Molly Shephard. "And when you actually sit and think about it, I've actually teared up a few times thinking, "We're going to states.""
"As a senior, for me it's the best way to go out," said senior guard Bridget Holleran. "I wouldn't want to go out any other way, and we still have so far to go."
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