State tournament bound: Potomac Falls Panthers
Potomac Falls Panthers
Coach: Jeff Hawes
Record: 20-8, Region II champions
All-District players: Sr. Greg Graves (Division 4 Player of the Year); Sr. Matt Galloway (second team)
State quarterfinals: March 3 vs. Grafton at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax
The Potomac Falls Panthers are back in the Virginia Division 4 boys basketball tournament for a third straight season. And just like the previous two years, the Panthers enter the state playoffs playing their best basketball of the season.
The two-time defending state champion Panthers earned the right to defend their crown by winning the Region II Division 4 championship. After pulling away late to defeat Loudoun County in the region quarterfinals at home, Potomac Falls prevailed in a pair of difficult road tests - a 77-72 semifinal win against Sherando and a 48-44 victory over Loudoun Valley in the Feb. 25 final - to collect its third consecutive region title.
“It’s very rewarding,” Potomac Falls coach Jeff Hawes said of advancing to states. “To graduate the group we graduated and really return one guy with any varsity experience; all be it a pretty good guy to return in the Player of the Year in our league. I’m really proud of these kids the way they’ve grown.”
Hawes is referring to 6-foot-7 senior forward Greg Graves, a Division I Mount St. Mary’s University commit who earned Dulles District Division 4 Player of the Year honors this season. Graves is the lone returning starter from last year’s team that graduated 10 players.
“I knew this team had a lot of talent,” Graves said. “I knew we were going to go through some adversity through the season because we are a young team. But I had a feeling we could do it as long as we put our talent together and played hard every night.”
With several fresh faces in the lineup, the Panthers experienced some growing pains this winter. A three-game losing skid to close out January left Potomac Falls at 11-7 on the season.
“We weren’t doing some of the things we pride ourselves on with Panther basketball,” Hawes said. “We watched the film and we called some people out. We had some tears but we brought things together ... we never stopped believing in what we were trying to do.”
Since that meeting, the Panthers (20-8) have reeled off nine wins in their last 10 games. Along with Graves, Potomac Falls is receiving contributions from several players, including senior Matt Galloway - a second team All-Dulles District performer - and freshman Wayna Allen, who posted 22 points and 12 rebounds in the region semifinals.
The only blemish during the surge was a 20-point loss to Loudoun Valley in the Dulles District tournament final. Potomac Falls lost the first three meetings against the Vikings this season prior to rallying from 10 points down for a four-point win in the region title game.
“They’ve had our number all year,” Galloway said of Loudoun Valley. “It was a great victory. We are rolling in February right now. It’s just great to stay on pace.”
The Panthers will open the state playoffs against a familiar opponent - Region I runner-up Tabb. Potomac Falls defeated Tabb in the previous two state quarterfinal rounds, highlighted by a thrilling 46-44 win last year.
“We will have our hands full with Tabb,” Hawes said. “They are well coached and they are not going to be scared about coming to Robinson. They have a lot of same kids back. We know its going to be tough.”
Potomac Falls and Tabb will square off for a third straight year March 3 at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax. Game tips at 2:45 p.m. The winner advances to the state semifinals, scheduled for March 6 at the Siegel Center in Richmond.
“We’ve come a long way,” Galloway said. “We want our final goal to end at states. We are just going to keep fighting and see what happens.”
Video: Lukas Mihailovich, a 2011 Potomac Falls graduate, steals the ball and converts a layup as time expires to give the Panthers a thrilling 46-44 victory over Tabb in the 2011 VHSL Division 4 state boys basketball quarterfinals. Potomac Falls and Tabb will square off in the state quarterfinals for a third straight year March 3.—Times-Mirror Staff Video/Carl Lukat
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