— Warhill girls basketball coach Bingo Brungot says his trio of captains knows what he is thinking before he says it.
Seniors Keely Rochard and Kieran McClure and junior Olivia Schulz should know; they have played for Brungot since their days at Toano Middle, when Brungot coached both the Lions and the Tigers.
After Warhill's 50-22 win Thursday over Colonial Heights in the Conference 25 semifinals, McClure teased Schulz about her measured responses during a Gazette postgame inquiry. Schulz' answers sounded exactly like those of nearby Brungot, prompting him to wipe a faux tear from his eye.
When the Lions clinched their first Bay Rivers District title last week at Bruton, it was McClure repeating a common Brungot refrain.
"Like Coach Brungot said in the locker room, (past players) laid the foundation for the house and we put the roof on it," McClure said.
The consistent play of the captains led Warhill to its most regular-season wins (16) in school history before the top-seeded Lions sought Friday to repeat for the third time as C-25 champion against Poquoson.
Thursday's win clinched a 3A East Region berth for Warhill, which will play for a trip to the state tournament in VCU's Siegel Center on Tuesday in the regionals. The Lions needed to win Friday to clinch homecourt for Tuesday's game.
After netting 13 points against Colonial Heights, Schulz said, "We've been trying to pick up our intensity, get the right mindset, to hustle more, and focus so we're ready for the tough games."
Schulz is a stat-sheet stuffer, a versatile one that scores her points in a variety of ways. In the district-clincher over Bruton, she pulled down 10 rebounds and scored all seven of her points in the fourth quarter. On Thursday, she nailed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the top of the key to close the first quarter and increase the Lions' run to 18-0 before it stretched to 28-0 in the second period.
All three captains are standout softball players, each of which played vital infield roles in the Lions' state championship last spring.
"Kieran, Olivia and I have grown up together," Rochard said. "So our chemistry has been really strong through the years."
"I have their back," McClure said. "They have my back. I'd go to war for them."
It usually doesn't take long on the hardwood to notice that Rochard, who will pitch for Virginia Tech next year, possesses a cannon for an arm. On Thursday, she ripped a one-handed pass down the floor for sophomore Tyra Fannin, who completed a fast-break layup.
Rochard is also Warhill's "queen of rebounding," as Schulz phrased it.
"She can coach for me on the floor," Brungot said of Rochard. "She's grown into that. Those two (Schulz and McClure) play the pick-and-roll better than any two I've ever seen. They just know where each other are."
Brungot praised the growth in leadership from McClure, who will be able to play college softball if she wants to, although she may make her college choice solely on academics.
McClure, a four-year starter for Brungot, led Warhill Thursday with 14 points including four 3-pointers. She is as good of a girls shooter as there is in the area.
"In my opinion, she has the prettiest shot," Brungot said. "Form-wise, the thing is beautiful."
The unselfishness Brungot preaches is evident in the Lions' brand of basketball. The only head coach the Warhill girls program has known keeps the playbook thick, to be able to adapt to the tendency of any opponent. The Lions force a lot of turnovers, finish well in transition and have benefited from the addition of Williamsburg Christian Academy transfer Te'Daizhua Jones, a sophomore that bolstered Warhill with more length and toughness.
Former starting point guard Jewel Walters' early departure to college after the first semester left Warhill with a greater challenge than Brungot anticipated. Walters, who will play volleyball at VCU, gave the Lions a large dose of tenacity and usually guarded the opposition's best player.
But Fannin has stepped in and Warhill is poised to reach states again, hoping to advance a round further this time led by McClure, Rochard and Schulz.
"We want to get back," Brungot said. "I think this year's team is a little bit more talented than last year's team. But if we can get over that hurdle, whoever it is we have to play in that regional, we could make some noise."
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.