George Washington seniors (from left) Haley Claudio, Charlie Lucente and Stephanie Kelly hope to help bring the Patriots their first state championship after several near misses.
George Washington's girls are turning the page on a heartbreaking season and begin anew their quest for the school's first state championship.That starts with new head coach Derek Ragle, a former assistant for the Hurricane boys team. He takes over a Patriots squad that finished the regular season No. 1 in the state coaches association rankings last season before getting upset in sectional play.The Patriots may be the most star-crossed program in the state. They lost in the 2010 Class AAA state championship game, making their first appearance there since finishing as runner-up in 1999. GW has appeared in eight state tournaments, the most in the Kanawha Valley, but is still without a title."I've tried not to bring it up too much,'' said Ragle, who has 30 girls out for the second week of practice. "We brought it up [Tuesday]. We didn't have a very good practice [Monday].
"We said if we want to get over that hump and remove that label we've got to bring it to practice every day. They responded. They've moved on. To say they completely forgot about it, I'd say it's untrue. They've taken it and use it as motivation.''The Patriots should be a contender again this year.GW returns a core of talented players led by seniors Charlie Lucente, Andrea Breeden, Haley Claudio and Stephanie Kelly, junior Taylor Ellis and sophomore Olivia Miller. Senior Catherine Geis, sophomores Sarah Bodnar, Kasey Rhodes and Sarah Wilson will be in the mix, too.Lucente was a state coaches association first-team all-state pick after last year while Miller was a second-team pick as a freshman."We've got some new faces,'' said Ragle, "but there's still a lot of talent there. I like my team and we're going to do some big things."I think we've got the makings of a good team. Anything less than a state tournament berth will be disappointing for me. We've got tons of pieces. We're kind of playing mad scientist right now. We're moving girls around and trying to get them where they're most effective.''New coach for CatholicAmy Mullen is also looking to restore the luster to Charleston Catholic girls team.Mullen steps in for Kevin Nelson, who in 11 seasons guided the Fighting Irish to three straight AA-A titles. She was an assistant under Nelson the past three seasons.Catholic finished with an 8-8-1 record last season and was bounced from sectional play."It's real exciting,'' said Mullen. "I feel real fortunate to have been with Kevin. Two of those years we were state champs. The last year was a rebuilding. It was tough.''
Mullen is hoping the rebuilding pace will quicken with an influx of young talent to go along with established starters. The Irish have 19 players, which is an improvement over last year's dozen that made practicing difficult at times.Seniors Jenny Borman and Hannah George andf juniors Anne Crockett, Quincy McKown, Anna Whelan and Sarah Joseck will form a strong nucleus. Whelan was a second-team all-state player last year."My junior and senior class has gotten to ride the wave of success,'' she said. "I think they're prepared to lead the way. We've got eight or nine freshmen coming in that are good and strong. It'll be a good fit for the experienced players that we have.''Don't count out WinfieldThe Winfield boys turned in one of their finest seasons in recent memory, finishing the regular season ninth in the state coaches rankings and winning a sectional contest.The Generals lost nine starters to graduation, but don't count them out just yet.
"We've got a hard-working group,'' said Winfield second-year coach Mike Foster. "They see where we're trying to take them and they're real receptive. I think we have a good team. I played a lot of players last year so a lot had game experience from last year.''Senior forward Preston Sheldon returns after scoring the fourth-most goals in the Kanawha Valley with 20. Senior midfielder Connor Grant, defender Jacob Foster and junior keeper Bryce Boggs will still make the Generals competitive."I really think we're going to have a good year,'' Foster said. "You know how you have a good group and you see them clicking. I've got good substitutes and a good starting 11. We'll be substituting five or six a game and we won't lose anything.''Marshall in the ValleyThe Marshall men's and women's soccer teams will be playing some of their home games in the Kanawha Valley this season.The Thundering Herd men's squad has two games (one exhibition, one regular season) scheduled for Trace Fork at Southridge and four set for Hurricane High. The men's home opener against Wright State on Aug. 24 will take place at Trace Fork.The Marshall women's team will play two contests at Hurricane High with three games at Cabell Midland and one at Huntington.Marshall bought the property where Veterans Memorial Fieldhouse once stood, tore down the iconic arena this past spring and is building a state-of-the-art soccer complex on the site, but it won't be ready until next season.Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com