The West Virginia Scholastic Lacrosse Association state championships are set for today at Andrew Jordon Field in Trace Fork with one local team attempting to capture its first state title.
The action kicks off at noon with the top-ranked George Washington girls team taking on second-seeded University. The Patriots punched their ticket to the finals by taking down defending state champion Morgantown 14-11 last week at Trace Fork. George Washington junior attacker Sarah Wilson led the offense, scoring eight goals, six in the first half.
The matchup will feature the top two scoring threats in the state in Wilson (47 goals in 13 games) and University’s Sarah Miller (24 goals in nine games).
“The neat thing about our team is that we have plenty of girls that can shoot and I think that makes us tough to defend,” said George Washington coach Greg Mallory. “We have Wilson, but Sarah Bodnar and Sarah White are shooting really well for us right now.”
The Patriots beat University twice in the regular season, 10-8 and 10-8.
“We are going to have to communicate on defense [today] and get a lot of ball action,” said Mallory. “Miller is a phenomenal shooter and their goalie Morgan Okubo is really good. She had 23 saves against us in the last game.”
Okubo has 106 saves in 10 games this season, good for first in the state.
The No. 2-ranked Hawks took down third-seeded Fairmont Senior 7-6 in the semifinals last week.
“Each of my players were key in that game,” said University coach Jenna Alley. “Its hard to pick just one player.
“We have such good senior leadership on this team. A lot of them have been playing together for four to five years now and they have really become a family. We just have to focus and learn from our mistakes in the regular season. George Washington is a great team.”
The boys Division I championship begins at 2 p.m. with top-ranked University taking on second-seeded Wheeling Central.
University is led by top-scorer Grant Thompson, who has scored 26 goals, and goalie Kienan Battin, who has 55 saves in seven WVSLA games this season.
The Hawks, who defeated Morgantown 14-1 in the semifinals, look to defend their 2013 state title.
The Maroon Knights took down Wheeling Park 13-5 in the semifinals at Wheeling Jesuit University in what coach Kevin Maloney called a total team effort.
“We all came together,” said Maloney. “We try not to recognize the guys that fill the stats column any more than the guys who help us defensively, or by setting picks and fielding ground balls.”
Wheeling Central’s offense is powered by senior Mike Tighe and junior Ben Duplaga, who rank third and fourth, respectively, in the state in scoring this season.
Maloney, whose Knights fell to University 14-2 in the regular season, expects more of that team effort today.
“What we have been preaching is, ‘one team, one goal, one heartbeat,’ ” said Maloney. “I’m expecting kids to take on bigger roles than others, but together is what we are trying to accomplish.”
In the final contest of the day at 4 p.m., Berkeley County will square off with the No. 4-ranked Huntington Highlanders in the boys Division II finals.
The Bulldogs lost to Buckhannon-Upshur 12-6 in the state semifinals, but an anonymous tip alleged that Buckhannon-Upshur played the game with players who were academically ineligible. An investigation by the WVSLA confirmed that the allegations were true and declared that Berkeley County would advance to the finals.
“We’re extremely excited to be here,” said Berkeley County coach Rodney Watcher. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to show that lacrosse is thriving in the Eastern Panhandle.”
The Bulldogs boast two of the top scorers in the state in senior attacker Caleb Carter (59 goals) and freshman attacker Michael Watcher (38 goals).
“We have about six guys that can score from anywhere on the field,” said Watcher. “But we are not a selfish team.”
Even with all that offensive firepower, Watcher says its hard to single out any one player for his team’s success.
“We have a quick transitioning team and that comes from our passing and ability to win faceoffs,” said Watcher. “Guys like Nate Stevens and Bryan Uth really help getting our guys into scoring positions.”
The fourth-ranked Highlanders will look to counter Berkeley County’s scoring attack with one of the top defenses in the state.
“We have a defense called ‘The Four Horsemen,’ ” said Huntington coach Mark Pinson. “[Defensemen] Tyler McDonald, Austin Budd, Ritchie Mounts and Connor Blackwell are the heart of this team. They’ve kept us alive all year and we are hoping that’s what keeps us in the game [today].”
Huntington took down top-ranked Capital 7-6 in the semifinals, earning its first berth in the title game in the program’s three-year history.
The Bulldogs won the only regular-season match up between the two teams 7-6, but Huntington was missing four key players in only its second game of the season.
“Berkeley County is a well-balanced team,” said Pinson. “We are going to have to rely on our defense.”
Watcher feels the game will definitely be a chess match between the two teams because of their conflicting styles.
“Its going to be an interesting game,” said Watcher. “They run a very physical man-to-man defense and our players are going to have to make accurate passes and move the ball quickly.
“They’re probably going to try to pressure us. They have some athletes and they proved that winning at St. Albans and at Capital. They’ve earned their spot.”