Optimism abounds as volleyball season begins this week

By By Courtney Sealey
For the Gazette
KENNY KEMP | Gazette
Herbert Hoover volleyball coach Anita King speaks with her team during a recent practice.
KENNY KEMP | Gazette
Hoover senior Gracetyn Carper hits the ball during practice Friday.

The West Virginia high school volleyball season returns in full tempo Wednesday and three Kanawha County schools are working with hopes of returning to the state championship match.

Things are starting anew again for Charleston Catholic, as the Irish welcomed first-year coach Courtney Furgason to the team over the summer.

Furgason is the third coach for the volleyball team in three seasons. Furgason said she hopes to offer the girls something they have not seen for several years.

“Changing of coaches anytime is tough to go through and I think stability and consistency will help them improve as the season progresses,” Furgason said. “We will continue to grow — even though there is inexperience there. As long as we go into a game and are always prepared for each match, that is going to get us one step closer to states.”

Consistency is something the team has not had since Vince Stricker coached the team from 2007-10, when the Irish won back-to-back state championships (2009-10) before Stricker stepped down.

The Irish return only one senior, libero Maddie Summers. Furgason has a strong junior class this season with several players returning, including setter Olivia Lee and Class A all-state second team outside hitter Gabby Porteia.

It will not just be the upperclassmen helping Charleston Catholic. Furgason said she looks for 5-foot-11 sophomore Catherine Herlihy to be an offensive threat this season.

“I am looking to have a high-octane offense with a tenacious defense,” Furgason said. “Is that going to happen? We will see. Anything is possible as long as we have good work ethic and are willing to put in the time.”

Last season, Catholic returned to the state tournament after a one-year hiatus, but fell 3-0 early against Tyler Consolidated. Furgason said she did feel a little pressure to keep the team at the state championship level it has been in the past.

“As a coach, I always have that pressure, but I put that pressure on myself,” Furgason said. “I am sure the girls do want to get back to states and win. This year, we are very young and there’s a lot of inexperienced players, but they are hungry. With that and improving throughout the season, anything is possible.”

n In Class AA, there is a dynasty brewing and unfortunately for Herbert Hoover, it is the Oak Glen Golden Bears.

The Huskies overcame adversity last season with injuries and eligibility issues to make it to the state tournament finals. However, Hoover’s luck ran out and Oak Glen took its third straight title, beating Hoover in straight sets 25-18, 25-11, 25-14.

The Golden Bears have dominated AA with six overall championships including titles in 1997, 1998, 2008 and the last three in a row.

Fourth-year Hoover coach Anita King, a former Huskies player, said she holds no regrets from the previous season.

“Our team was satisfied with how we performed. We give the utmost respect to Oak Glen,” King said. “Obviously we were disappointed to come out as runner-ups, but you can’t take anything away from them or feel like, ‘Gosh, we let that one go.’ My kids were young and inexperienced then and it was their first time in the tournament, so they couldn’t recover. You live and learn. I was really proud. I don’t think anyone has any chip on their shoulder because of losing.“

Although the Huskies lost seniors Ashton King and Hope Johnson, there is plenty of talent waiting to fill the open positions. The Huskies have four starters returning for the upcoming season. Three seniors return, including libero Kati Angle and middle hitter Gracetyn Carper.

Senior Allison Rager, who received special honorable mention on the AA all-state team this past season, will return at right side hitter. Rager was also selected as player of the year by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association for leading the Huskies to their first state softball championship. Also returning is junior Ashton King, who played in the AAU 17 and under national volleyball event over the summer.

The upperclassmen are not the only ones putting in offseason work. King said four sophomores participated in club ball this season and expects them to come back strong for their second season of volleyball.

By developing young players, the Huskies have been able to create depth and intrasquad competition, something King said will give the players healthy competition and challenge players to step up to fill the void.

n George Washington coach Missy Smith is hoping the offseason work her girls have put in will help her team make it back to the state tournament. The Patriots have taken three state titles since 2005.

After falling to Capital in sectional play last season, Smith has been putting her girls to work in the offseason. Several Patriot players joined travel teams throughout the Kanawha County and Huntington.

Smith also said her three-day-a-week voluntary workout sessions last spring were very successful.

“We started in January when they get back from Christmas break. We had a three-day-a-week workouts that were voluntary and we had double digits there every day,” Smith said. “That is how we have been able to be so successful is that the girls are willing to put the time in the offseason. I am so lucky.”

The girls also participated in Smith’s ‘‘training camp’’ over the summer, where they had three-hour practices five days a week to prepare for the upcoming season.

There are 27 girls participating in volleyball for GW this season, enough to be divided among three different teams — varsity, junior varsity and freshman. However, after the Patriots’ high turnover last season due to graduation and transfers, Smith won’t be surprised if some freshmen start on the varsity this season.

“We have some returning starters, but we are just going to be a lot different,” Smith said. “We are going to have a lot of new kids out there, two or three freshmen will be playing on varsity and I am not really sure how it is going to go.”

The Patriots lost first team all-state player Jessica Sayre due to graduation, but senior Amelia Edmondson, who received a special honorable mention on the all-state team, will be returning for the varsity squad.

Because of the Patriots’ young age, fundamentals have been an important part of practice lessons, according to Smith. However, she said the extra time the girls have been putting in will help the team push ahead of the pack.

Volleyball season starts Wednesday for West Virginia schools. The state tournament is set for Nov. 14-15 at the Charleston Civic Center.

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