Women get WVC finale started today
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Welcome to a tournament like no other.
Sure, there are the familiar brackets and bright lights at this week's 34th West Virginia Conference women's basketball tournament, as well as eight teams striving for the same goal - in this case, a league title and an automatic berth into the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional.
But what makes this tournament so special is that it's the last one. And then it's done.
The field that gathers for today's quarterfinals at the Charleston Civic Center (see adjoining schedule) will be gunning for the honor of being the champion for the league's final postseason tournament, since the WVC will be dissolved at the end of the current school year, to be replaced in part by the Division II Mountain East Conference.
That means this weekend's champions in both the women's and men's events will stand the test of time. And perhaps as a salute to the past, the WVC offers up as the top two seeds a pair of teams that recently dominated the women's tournament - Glenville State and West Liberty.
The top-seeded Pioneers (26-2) tangle with No. 9 seed University of Charleston (15-12) at 6:30 p.m. today, and the second-seeded Hilltoppers (20-7) take on Shepherd (14-13) at 3 p.m.
From 2000-04, Glenville State and West Liberty met in the tournament finals five straight times. They also played in the 2007 championship game, and have split those six recent title-game meetings.
This is the first time since 2004, however, that those two have toted the top two seeds into the tournament. Glenville State coach Bunky Harkleroad thinks it's a sign of the league's newfound balance.
"The amount of parity on the women's side of the league is amazing,'' Harkleroad said Monday afternoon. "I think of the eight teams that show up to play in Charleston, all eight are capable of winning it from my perspective.''
Harkleroad's words rang true Monday night, as three lower-seeded teams went on the road and knocked off favorites in first-round games on campus sites - No. 13 Alderson-Broaddus (beating No. 5 Davis & Elkins), No. 11 West Virginia Wesleyan (beating No. 6 West Virginia State) and No. 9 UC (beating No. 8 Pitt Johnstown).
"It never gets old coming down there,'' said Harkleroad, who takes a team to the Civic Center for the fourth time. "It's always a great event. Everybody's excited about it, especially being the last one and the WVIAC being such a big part of sports in the state.
"There's a lot of interest and a lot of anticipation. We'll be antsy until the first jump ball goes up.''
The women's semifinal round is set for Friday afternoon, with games at 1 and 3 p.m., and the title game is scheduled for 1:07 p.m. Saturday.
The numbers favor the Pioneers emerging with the team title this week. Glenville brings a 20-game winning streak into the tournament quarterfinals and a No. 12 ranking in the USA Today Sports Top 25 national poll.
Glenville leads the league in several statistical categories - many by wide margins.
The Pioneers rank No. 1 in the WVC and the country in both scoring (96.6 points per game) and 3-point field goals (14.1 per game). They also top the WVC in rebounding margin (plus 6.8), assists (16.5) and steals (14.4).
UC, however, held the Pioneers well under their scoring average in two regular-season meetings, losing 87-84 in Glenville on Dec. 10 and 80-66 on Feb. 18 in Charleston.
Harkleroad prefers that his team keep the status quo and not try to overdo it at the Civic Center.
"We'll harp on the same things we've harped on all year long,'' he said, "and that's to put ourselves in situations that we practice, take shots that we practice and not be too fancy. If it doesn't go in, we want four people flying after it. We want to play good 'D' without fouling this time of year.''
Glenville's potent attack is paced by a pair of first-team All-WVC players - Ginny Mills (18.6 point per game) and Kenyona Simmons (15.5), who both rank among the top 10 scorers in the league.
The Golden Eagles, No. 4 in the WVC in scoring at 73.4 points, are led by LeAnne Ross (10.9).
West Liberty, which comes to town having won eight of its last nine starts, ranks second in scoring average to Glenville, but its 77.5 figure stands a whopping 19.1 points behind the Pioneers.
The Hilltoppers boast the West Virginia Conference's best-shooting squad, leading the league in field-goal percentage (44.4) and free-throw percentage (74.1). They also have the services of WVC player of the year Hillary Southworth (24.0), who tops the conference in scoring average.
Interestingly, if the top two seeds both advance to the finals, West Liberty may offer the best antidote to Glenville's bomb's-away approach from behind the arc, as the Hilltoppers top the WVC in 3-point defense at 27.5 percent.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.
WVC women's schedule
At the Charleston Civic Center