It will be a new face on the Winfield sidelines this season, but it will be a familiar one as well.
Pat McGinnis takes over for Shawn Lucas as the Generals’ head coach and inherits a talented group fresh off a trip to the Class AA state tournament semifinals a year ago.
McGinnis served as the Winfield boys coach for 13 seasons before stints as an assistant for the South Charleston girls and at Winfield Middle School, where he coached several of the players that will try to take yet another step this season.
“When that job opened, first of all I was surprised, but I thought, ‘I love being in the gym, I love Winfield, so I’ll go back and have some fun with it,’ ” McGinnis said at the St. Albans High School Shootout on Wednesday. “It’s a great group of girls and Coach Lucas did a fine job with them last year and got them in a good place.”
That place was a game shy of a championship game berth. Led by Kanawha Valley Freshman of the Year and a first-team all-state selection Z.Z. Russell, Winfield should be loaded for a return run with experienced players such as senior Sydney Cavender and sophomores Mara McGrew, Lauren Hudson, Emily Hudson, Kalei Jordan and Emily Bryant.
On Wednesday, senior Cami Frye and junior Abigail Dye were also suited up and playing after having not played since middle school.
Those two are part of what makes the job in front of McGinnis a bit interesting. All but Russell are primarily soccer players and track athletes, using basketball in the middle of the two seasons to stay in shape and remain competitive.
“It’s hard,” Cavender admitted. “When we first came back into the gym — well I still can’t shoot very well — but it just felt kind of awkward and it always does when we’re just getting back into it. But I think once we’re midseason in the regular season, we’ll be good because we’ll all get out of soccer mode and be in basketball mode.”
That was a hard thing to get done during the three-week practice period as McGinnis got only four practices and three games out of his team, all three of which happened Wednesday at St. Albans. The Generals beat St. Albans and Wheeling Park and were blown out 70-27 by North Marion in the team’s finale.
“It is difficult because these girls are athletes for soccer and for track and basketball is in the middle,” McGinnis said. “You get good athletes on the floor but they haven’t been shooting the basketball or handling the basketball. It’s a challenge, but it is fun to try to mold them into a team before tournament time.”
Those athletes engineered an in-your-face pressure defense that overcame some of the team’s shortcomings in terms of shooting, with offense generated by a turnover-hungry defense.
McGinnis said while adding more to the offense and a few different presses this season, he plans to keep the tempo high.
“We will definitely want to be an up-and-down team,” McGinnis said.
Absent from the front of that press will be the Marshall-bound Mary Lawman, a long, athletic third-team all-state selection who usually took an opponent’s best offensive player one-on-one and often won that battle.
Aside from that was Lawman’s leadership, something that will likely fall onto Cavender as the team’s most experienced senior.
“I think it’s pretty easy because of the leaders I’ve had,” Cavender said. “They showed me what to do and last year I started to be a leader with them. They’re all younger than me and it’s just easier for me to help them and say, ‘I’ve been here longer.’ ”
Awaiting the Generals is a tough Class AA Region 4 field that may be tougher this year than last, with Sissonville and Wayne also bringing back the majority of their teams, Poca coming off of a state-tournament berth and Mingo Central returning several key players from a squad that made a regional final.
How fast McGinnis can whip his team into basketball shape once the season starts will influence sectional seeding, so even early games are important as the team progresses.
“It’s going to be a challenge to try to mold these girls together,” McGinnis said. “Wayne has some new kids in, Sissonville is good, it’s going to be a dogfight I know.
“It’s different for me. With the boys, I’m used to having them year-round playing summer leagues and fall leagues, and when you don’t have the girls you can’t do it. But I’ve enjoyed being in the gym with them and we’ll see what we can do.”
One good thing about having a team comprised mostly of soccer players is that when it’s a soccer player from Winfield, state championship experience is a given. Cavender will be gunning for a fourth straight title this year and Winfield has won five in a row, four in Class AAA and last year’s Class AA-A crown.
While the players will likely have to sharpen their basketball skills in a hurry once the season arrives, the team’s competitiveness and grit will be there in spades right at the beginning.
“I hate losing,” Cavender said. “We want to win it all this year. Obviously we have some work to do considering what we did today [the loss to North Marion] wasn’t our best. We were a little tired and not in basketball shape, but I think once we get back there it will be a whole different story.”