CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Washington opened practice Monday with high expectations, and rightfully so.The Patriots return seven players, including four starters, from last year's team that advanced to the Class AAA state tournament semifinals for the second straight year."I'm really pleased with what I'm seeing right now,'' said GW coach Jamie LaMaster. "You've got girls that have seen it."They don't know what it's like not playing for regional and state titles. They know the feeling of having success. They know what it's going to take to get where we want to go. Today is where it's going to start. It's right now.''
GW finished with a 17-10 overall record and upset second-seeded South Charleston in the quarterfinals of the state tournament before falling to eventual state champion Greenbrier East.Patriots senior guard Rachel Ward, junior post player Kelli Jo Harrison, sophomore point guard Alanna Mobayed and senior guard Kayla Stewart return. Ward averaged 12.8 points while Harrison tossed in 12.1. GW seniors Eva Roberts and Leslie Gilmore will add depth off the bench."We just hope we pick up and carry from where we were the last two years,'' LaMaster said. "I've had great turnouts for our fall ball and conditioning practices. They've put a lot of work in the fall and summer and hopefully that's going to pay off."They've worked really hard for me in the offseason. Now it starts counting. It's for keeps now. We want to constantly have that attitude. We're looking to them as coaches and saying, 'You don't want to be the class that drops the ball.' ''SC began drills with a lot of new faces.For starters, John Testa began his first season with the Black Eagles, taking over for Gary Greene, who stepped down after last season. Greene led SC to the AAA state title game the previous two seasons before last year.The Black Eagles lost six seniors to graduation, including Brittany Gordon, who is playing at Pitt."Deer in the headlights,'' said Testa of his first day on the sideline. "For me it was wonderful. This is what I love to do. We don't have a lot of experience. We have to have that determination and never-give-up attitude. There's a lot of raw talent."These kids understand the game [and] now it's getting them to play within the system. I want them to be the best individual within the team atmosphere. I think once these kids pick it up we'll be good to go. It's a whole new program and a whole new era. Just step in and be you.''A new era also dawned at Charleston Catholic, where Paul Sutherland took over for Ashley Shepler, who stepped down this summer after eight seasons. Sutherland compiled a 159-43 record in eight seasons at Winfield, guiding the Generals to two Class AA state titles.The Fighting Irish, who lost in last year's state quarterfinals, will need Sutherland's experience after Catherine Bandak, a 6-foot center who was the team's second-leading scorer last year as a freshman at 9.2 points, suffered a season-ending knee injury playing volleyball.
Schools may open the regular season Nov. 29 with the state tournament scheduled for March 7-10 at the Civic Center. Greenbrier East (AAA), Westside (AA) and St. Joseph (A) are the defending state champions.Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.