Charleston Catholic's Nick George dribbles through a pair of Tug Valley defenders during last season's Class A championship game. George is looking to help lead the Irish to their 10th consecutive state tournament appearance.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's hard to call a team with an entire starting lineup of seniors inexperienced, but outside of Nick George and Garret McCarty, that's exactly what Class A Charleston Catholic is dealing with, according to coach Bill McClanahan.In McCarty, a point guard who recently committed to Le Moyne (N.Y.), the Irish have a returning second-team all-stater to run the show.In George, Catholic has a versatile and experienced wing player who is looking to expand his game after being a first-team all-state selection last season.But the rest of the starting five, consisting of center Patrick Herlihy (6-foot-5) forward Aaron Persily (6-2) and guard Russell Miller (5-11), is experienced only by years and not by playing time."It's going to be a bit of a learning curve for these guys," McClanahan said. "We understand it's going to be an uphill climb and we've got to get better every day. Right now our target and goal is kind of close and we will expand that as the season goes forward."If any program seems equipped to handle a bit of bumpiness early in the season, it's Catholic, which is looking for its 10th straight state tournament appearance, winning three titles since 2006. After winning the Class A title in 2012, the Irish made it back to the championship game only to fall to Tug Valley last season.Gone from that team are Zach Casto (11.8 points per game), David Godwin, Andy Hoyer, Michael Tupta, Nelson McKown and Kiefer Hovorka.In addition to an increase in production, McCarty and George will be looked to for larger leadership roles this season as well."Part of the learning curve on this team is watching Nick and Garret in their development as leaders," McClanahan said. "We've been very fortunate in that the leadership has been handed down in such a positive way. Each team passes on to the next team the understanding of expectations and the attention to detail in terms of worth ethic in practice and effort in games. All those pieces add up to being successful in March."Juniors Justin Snyder and Cameron Imani, as well as sophomore Hayden McCarty, figure to make significant contributions this year for Catholic.nn
South Charleston was the only other Kanawha Valley school to advance past the first round of the state tournament last year as the Black Eagles made it to the semifinals before falling to Woodrow Wilson.The Black Eagles lost several top players to graduation, including Ra'Shaud Kincaid, Trevond Reese, Neil Brown, Hunter Moles, Devyn Harris, Isaac Cosby and Honore Dean.Returning third-team all-state selection A.D. Cunningham (13.2 points, six rebounds per game) will be looked to do the bulk of the work for South Charleston, especially early in the season."Our team shared the ball maybe too much last year," coach Vic Herbert said. "With A.D., he's a kid that has to be our bell cow this year. With all that experience and being a returning all-stater, he knows he's got to be the man for us. He's what I call the type of kid that's a mismatch problem. If you guard him with a big guy, he's too quick and if you guard him with a small player, he's too strong."
Returning players Brandon Knapper, Kentre Grier and Kevin Williams should provide some experience and Grier and Knapper will try to fill the vacated SC backcourt.Anthony Billings, a 6-5 senior forward, hasn't played since his freshman year but will provide some size up front for the Black Eagles. But with so many unknowns in the rotation, Herbert said his squad is a work in progress at best right now.
"Anytime you lose five out of the top six players from the year before, you're going to be a little shaky," Herbert said. "We were 24-3 and stayed at No. 1 a good part of the year last year and wound up third. I'm not saying we can't get to that point this year, but we're far from that right now. I'm hoping that once we get a little time in, they can get to the point where they can have a pretty good year."Here is a quick look at the other teams from around the Kanawha Valley.BUFFALO: Buffalo returns a solid core of players in hopes of making a return trip to the state tournament under veteran coach Chuck Elkins. The Bison went 21-5 last season, losing to Charleston Catholic 61-48 in the Class AA quarterfinals.
Returning for Buffalo are seniors Laythen Good (14.6 points) and Isaiah Robinson (10.0). However, Good will not see action until the first of the year after tearing his ACL in June in football workouts. The Bison also add Winfield transfer John Hodges to the roster.
HURRICANE: Hurricane returns talent from last year's state tournament team, including 6-4 senior Henry Sorsaia. Sorsaia (14.0) led the team in scoring last season as the Redskins finished 20-6 before falling to Woodrow Wilson in the state quarterfinals.
Coach Lance Sutherland leads a squad that includes seniors Ace Estep, Garrett DeFries, Alex Wolford, Tanner McAllister, Justin Newman and Duane Ruggier, as well as key juniors Trey Dawson and Dylan Tinsley. Former Winfield guard Jake Lemmerman and former Cabell Midland standout Dustin Scarberry join the roster.POCA: Poca returns its top three scorers from last season as the Dots look to make an appearance in the state basketball tournament under coach Allen Osborne. Poca (18-7) claimed a sectional title, but lost to Scott 53-52 in the final moments of the regional co-final at home.
The Dots return juniors Noah Frampton (14.4) and Matt Chandler (9.7) as well as senior Cam Cottrill (10.7). Skeen also expects 6-foot-4 freshman Luke Frampton, Noah's brother, to play a sizeable role for the team.CAPITAL: Veteran coach Carl Clark hopes to build on last season's 10-15 record. The Cougars return leading scorer and senior Carrington Morris (20.0). Juniors Jordan Kinney and Brad Grose will play big minutes and sophomore Miguel Bays will contribute. Bays missed last season after tearing his ACL.GEORGE WASHINGTON: The Patriots return a wealth of experience from last year's 18-5 team. Seniors Dominik King (6-4) and Chris Kay (6-2), along with junior center Cai Carena (6-4), provide a sizable frontcourt and new addition Jon Elmore will run the offense. Elmore, a former SC standout, played at Christ School (N.C.) last season and has already signed with VMI.HERBERT HOOVER: Hoover enters the season largely inexperienced with only three seniors under new coach Josh Daniel. The Huskies finished 13-12 last season and graduated their top four scorers. Hoover returns junior Hunter White, the only player to see a significant amount of varsity playing time last year, and Daniel expects solid contributions from Matthew Justice and Tommy Parrish.NITRO: Nitro looks to improve on last season's 11-14 record under coach Bryan Faber. The Wildcats, who graduated top scorer Angelo Sirianni from last year, will lean on sophomore Trayvon Taylor (12.0 points). Senior J.P. Mawyer will provide stability in the backcourt and senior Tyler Barton will see significant minutes when he returns from an Achilles injury.RIVERSIDE: After a up-and-down 2012-2013 campaign, Riverside looks to rebound under first-year coach Ryan Carter. The Warriors went 10-15 and graduated top scorer Marcus Reed (14.5). They'll rely on lone senior Tyus Wood (12.6), the team's second-leading scorer, as well as juniors Tamar Lawson and Josh Butcher.SISSONVILLE: After graduating four of its five starters, Sissonville brings a young and inexperienced team to the floor this season. The Indians went 10-14 and lost a pair of 1,000-point scorers in Zach Null (17.6 per game) and Trent Stowers (14.0). Coach Rich Skeen will rely on his only returning starter, 6-2 senior Nathan Miller, as well as 6-3 senior Duncan McClung.ST. ALBANS: The Red Dragons bring back five players with starting experience, including four seniors, from a 4-19 campaign. Seniors Kevic Watkins (6-3 forward), Tanner Aliff (6-4, center), Taylor Clark (6-3, guard/forward) and Cody Young (5-11, guard) are all back and should be joined in the starting five by 6-2 junior Quamise Carter. Juniors Jeff Seams and A.J. Hines, along with seniors Byron Wiley, Andrew Barnette and Sammy Haywood, should see playing time as well.WINFIELD: Winfield returns No. 2 scorer and second-team All-MSAC senior guard Zach Fisher (14.0) and junior Bear Bellomy (12.0), but top scorer Chris Turner (14.7) opted not to play in order to concentrate on football. Coach Pat McGinnis also looks to seniors Toby Show, Taylor Hearn, Cole Schoolcraft and Brandon Wright to play major roles for the Generals who finished 14-9 last season, their first in the MSAC. Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt. Reach Marcus Cole and Terry Fletcher at 304-348-1749 or email@example.com.