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Tougher competition part of Hoover's volleyball tournament push

By D.J. Williams
Chip Ellis
Herbert Hoover's Carper Gracetyn slams a spike over Lewis County's Caitlin Morris.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Four area teams - Capital, Charleston Catholic, Herbert Hoover and South Charleston - took the court Wednesday at the Volleyball Showcase with hopes and aspirations that this wouldn't be their last time playing at the Civic Center this year.Of the four, Hoover (13-7) was the only team to take part in the state tournament last year.The Huskies have made three consecutive appearances, most recently losing in the first round of last year's tournament. But coach Anita King is hoping that a tougher schedule this year, coupled with star players Allison Rager and Hannah King, will lead to a longer stay when the state tournament rolls around Nov. 15-16."One big change we have made is toughing up our schedule," King said. "If you would talk to anyone in the state, they would probably raise their eyebrows if they knew we were just 11-7 coming into here. But we have made two trips up north already [against Morgantown, Hedgesville and Phillip Barbour]. We are doing some things there to prepare to face the best competition in the state."King and Rager both believe that they can make it four consecutive trips."The season has gone good so far," King said. "We are missing our main setter [Hope Johnson]. But we are still winning games for the most part. If we can stay devoted and communicate with each other, then I think we have a chance to make it back to the state tournament.""We need to take it one game at a time," Rager added. "There is a target on our back and they want to beat us. We just can't let up and we have to play every game to the end." The Huskies defeated Lewis County 25-17, 25-10 before ending the night on a good note, beating Summers County 25-15, 25-12.Capital (10-3), which hasn't made the state tournament since 2006 when it lost to GW, defeated Doddridge County in the first match 25-8, 25-13 and later faced Independence. Coach Carolyn Taylor is looking to build off the Cougar's first regional visit last year since a 2006 visit to the state tournament."This is my fourth year coaching," Taylor said. "It was a big accomplishment to get out of the section. We have been able to work and get a program. They have learned from each other, they learned from me and I've learned from them. We have learned what it takes as a team and a whole to make there."Taylor will be relying on seniors Paige Lucas, Tahje Houston, Courtney Burkhart to lead them there.
"We have a lot of potential to go to states," Lucas said. "Every player can actually hit or play multiple positions. I think we have a pretty strong team to make a run.""I think the season has gone really well," Houston said. "You can definitely tell when we are working together and not working together. We are just hoping that we can get everything together by the time states come."South Charleston (9-7-2), which won its early matchup with Mingo Central 25-18, 25-16, hopes that an "attitude" adjustment under first-year coach Andrea Lewis will pay dividends. Seniors Kaylee Stanley and Abby Bare have already seen a huge change from a disappointing season last year."There is a major difference in attitudes from last year," Stanley said. "There was a lot of negativity. We had a lot of younger girls come out his year but our older girls stepped up and showed them the ropes. It's our senior year. We don't want to lose again."
SC's last visit to the state tournament was in 2010."This year, I think we have a really good group of girls," Bare said. "Attitude really killed us and we have also had a new coach every year except my freshman and sophomore year. But our coach is great. She really communicates with us and made us more of a team."But Lewis wouldn't take the credit for the team's early success."I have been very fortunate with such a great group of girls," Lewis said. "They welcomed me with open arms, which made it a lot easier to welcome them back. I wanted to make a positive memory for the seniors. Coming in, there was a lot of team building. I am a firm believer that if you don't have chemistry as a team, then you won't make it very far."Charleston Catholic (18-5) won its early match against Greenbrier West 25-14, 25-20 before falling to Class AA Clay County 25-19, 27-25. But the Irish believe the sky is the limit and a return to the state tournament is definitely on their checklist. They won back-to-back Class A championships in 2009-10."For the past two years, we have had a lot of younger players," said senior Sierra Portillo. "But they have really stepped up their game. It's nice to see them play up to their potential and I think we will do pretty well this year."
"We obviously want to go to states," added senior Gina Marks. "That's what everyone wants. But right now we need to build up our wins and confidence." 
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