Volleyball preview -- GW, Catholic poised to make title runs; Hoover, Sissonville return all-state talent
Last season, six teams from the Kanawha Valley reached the volleyball state tournament at the Charleston Civic Center and with large chunks of that talent returning this season, it would not be a stretch to imagine George Washington, Herbert Hoover, Sissonville, Charleston Catholic and Buffalo all doing well in 2012.
Individual accolades and state-tournament appearances have been the norm for GW in recent years, but this season the Patriots have bigger plans.
GW returns one of the most experienced teams in the state in any class with hopes of winning the school's fifth state championship and first since back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006.
"I am fortunate enough to coach at a program where the state tournament and a state championship are always an option," GW coach Missy Smith said. "We don't set out to get to the region or just make it to states. Our mindset is 'state championship.' The girls have been working hard so hopefully it works out for us."
Smith and the Patriots had zero seniors on last year's team that qualified for the state tournament and returns all of its starters for 2012.
Two-time Class AAA first-team all-state selection Hannah Shreve returns for her senior year along with fellow all-state picks Sydney Downey (second team) and Lexi Mourier (special honorable mention.) Shreve, who has committed to play at West Virginia University, holds the school record for career kills and blocks.
"[Shreve] is an offensive weapon," Smith said. "We go to her when we need a point. When she's in the game she dominates both offensively and defensively. I'm glad I don't have to game plan against her."
The Patriots were not the only Class AAA Kanawha Valley squad to qualify for last season's state tournament. South Charleston also made it to the Civic Center only to lose to eventual runner-up Musselman in the quarterfinals
"South Charleston was a state tournament team for the first time in a few years," Smith said. "Our region is tough. There's Woodrow and Greenbrier East and they'll be good. Of course Parkersburg and Spring Valley are always good and Cabell Midland is good. There are a lot of good teams throughout the state. The state tournament is going to be very exciting this year and hopefully we get to participate in it."
George Washington opens its season Saturday at a quadrangular tournament hosted by Woodrow Wilson with games against Spring Valley, Cabell Midland and Oak Hill.
Charleston Catholic has enjoyed more recent success than any team in the Kanawha Valley, with consecutive Class A state championships in 2009 and 2010.
Last season, Lindsay Kuncher took over the Irish program after serving as an assistant on the program's state championship teams the previous two seasons. Catholic ultimately came up short of a third-straight championship - the Irish lost to eventual runner-up Williams-town in the quarterfinals - with a young team.
"They were so nervous going in to that state tournament," Kuncher said. "They felt like they had so much to live up to and they really played well. For them to show that kind of mental toughness ... that third set [against Williamstown] was a growing experience for those younger players."
The Irish lost first-team all-state selection Mackenzie Polen, but senior Simone Assaley, junior Hannah Gallian and sophomore Catherine Bandak are all back.
"Simone has stepped up so far as a leader," Kuncher said. "[Catherine] played opposite Mackenzie last year as a middle hitter and learned so much."
Charleston Catholic opens its season Tuesday at home with a quad match against South Charleston, Ripley and Cross Lanes Christian.
The area's other state tournament qualifier from last season in Class A, Buffalo, opens today at home against Nitro, Poca and Sherman before playing in the Doddridge County Invitational on Saturday.
In Class AA, Herbert Hoover and Sissonville each return all-state players from teams that qualified for last year's state tournament.
Hoover junior Hannah King and Sissonville senior Bekah Baldwin each earned a spot on the second team last season, while Hoover's Damia Mogeilski was a special honorable mention pick.
The Huskies opened their season Wednesday with quad match against Capital, Winfield and St. Albans. Sissonville begins Sept. 6 at Poca.