Smackdown at the Civic Center

Lawrence Pierce
Herbert Hoover's Hannah King (right) hits a spike in practice against teammate Gracetyn Carper.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Twenty-four schools will descend on Charleston today seeking a smashing end to the volleyball season.The 35th annual state volleyball tournament will get into full swing today at the Civic Center. Matches get underway at 8:30 a.m. with quarterfinals starting at 6:30 p.m. The AAA title match is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Saturday followed by Class A and Class AA.The Kanawha Valley will have three participants in Capital (AAA), Charleston Catholic (A) and Herbert Hoover (AA).Capital, No. 5 in the latest rankings, opens with No. 1 Musselman, which has played for the AAA state title five of the last six seasons with championships in 2008 and 2010. No. 5 Hoover squares off with No. 3 Ritchie County, the state runner-up in AA the past two seasons. No. 3 Catholic plays Class A top-ranked Tyler Consolidated.The other schools competing in AAA are Cabell Midland, No. 4 Parkersburg, No. 2 Spring Valley, No. 3 Parkersburg South, No. 6 Greenbrier East and No. 7 Martinsburg.Top-ranked Oak Glen, No. 4 Clay County, No. 2 Philip Barbour, No. 7 Independence, No. 6 Westside and No. 9 Robert C. Byrd round out the AA competitors.No. 4 East Hardy, Man, No. 2 Wirt County, No. 7 Magnolia, No. 5 Greater Beckley Christian and No. 8 Pendleton County fill out the rest of the Class A field.Defending champions in AAA and A failed to advance. George Washington, the defending AAA state champion, was knocked out in sectional play by Capital. Williamstown, which won the Class A title last year, didn't make it back. Oak Glen in AA is the only returning titlist, winning the last two.Hoover is looking to break through at states in its third straight trip. The Huskies have lost the last two times in the opening round."I've got juniors and seniors who have been starters and this will be their third trip to the state tournament,'' said third-year Hoover coach Anita King, whose team has played most of the top teams in AA this year. "We have that experience on the court."I feel like we'll have a little less glaze over the eyes because of the atmosphere. I'll have a team that's ready to take care of business with the team on the other side of the net.''
Hoover will be doing so with a lineup that's different from the one it put on the court in August and September.The Huskies are led by senior Hannah King, a 5-foot-9 first-team all-state player, and senior setter Hope Johnson, who didn't become eligible until the middle of October.Junior Allison Rager is a three-year starter, sophomore Ashton King is a two-year starter, junior Gracetyn Carper holds down the middle and junior Kati Angle is the libero.
The Huskies lost Kaylee Wehrle, a 5-10 right side blocker, to an infection the last month of the season brought on by knee surgery over the summer."We're getting it together and we're getting hot now,'' Anita King said. "That does create a mental toughness and that's what I see my kids demonstrating now. I felt like we've played conservative [at the state tournament]. We've played like a team that was trying not to lose, afraid to make a mistake."Our game since October has been all about being aggressive. Time and time again I've heard the kids say this year they don't just want to make it to the state tournament, they want to win the state title.''Charleston Catholic returns to states after a one-year hiatus. The Fighting Irish, who captured back-to-back state championships in 2009-2010, missed states last season after advancing to the Civic Center for eight straight years. "I think the girls worked really hard,'' said first-year Catholic coach Angela Beblo, who took over the reins after seven years as an assistant. "We're really proud of them for continuing the tradition at Charleston Catholic.''Senior outside hitter Sierra Portillo and senior Gina Marks, who has played middle blocker, setter and server, sophomores Maddie Summers (libero) and Olivia Lee (setter), sophomore outside hitter Gabby Portillo and freshmen Catherine Herlihy and Liddy Elmore have powered the Irish.
"I think the thing the girls have the most is heart,'' Beblo said. "They come in and give it everything they've got in practice and in a game. They really want [a state championship].''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at or 304-348-4811. 
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