For those arriving in the Capital City on Wednesday morning to cheer on a team or just to take in the best girls basketball our state has to offer, let me be the first to welcome you.
All year long, this week has been looked at with more intrigue and anticipation than any state tournament I’ve ever covered. We have Class AAA and Class AA races that don’t seem like forgone conclusions and a Mary Ostrowski Award race that is wide open and could be decided this very week on the Charleston Coliseum floor.
I’ve said it all year and I truly believe it — I think we’re in for a special state tournament this week, one we will talk about for years to come.
Here are some things that I am most looking forward to seeing.
St. Joseph: Largely against out-of-state competition, the Irish have put together one of their best seasons in school history and, as we all know by now, that says a mouthful.
Entering this week with a record of 23-1 and ranked No. 20 in the latest maxpreps.com national poll, there is more buzz around St. Joseph than normal as it guns for a 10th and final Class A championship in 12 years (the Irish will move to Class AAA next year in the four-class trial program). In particular, color me excited to finally see junior guard Grace Hutson, who already won the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award and who is averaging 19.5 points against a brutal regional schedule.
But I’m also excited to get one last look at senior Bailee Adkins, who will continue her career at Dayton next season. Since her arrival as a freshman, Adkins has wowed on the state tournament floor and, over the past three seasons, I haven’t seen another player who affects all phases of the game the way she does. Just as likely to rip down 15 rebounds as dish out 12 assists or score 20 points, Adkins has always shown the uncanny ability to provide whatever it is the Irish need on a game-by-game basis. I’m looking forward to see what she comes up with for a career capper.
Woodrow Wilson vs. Greenbrier East, Part IV (potentially): If we should’ve learned anything this year, it’s that nothing is guaranteed, especially in Class AAA.
Both the No. 2 Flying Eagles and No. 3 Spartans face some stiff tests in round one with Woodrow pairing up against No. 7 Morgantown and East facing No. 6 Martinsburg. The Mohigans are fresh off an upset of previously No. 1 Wheeling Park in a regional co-final, and the Bulldogs handed Class AA No. 1 North Marion its only loss of the season. Both are plenty capable of a first-round upset.
But IF the Spartans and Eagles slide past the quarterfinals ... oh what an environment it should be on semifinal Friday night when the two rivals hook up for the fourth time this season. By now the story of the skirmish, suspended game and the controversial comments that followed are known. Woodrow hammered East 78-55 in a sectional final and has won two of the teams’ three matchups. But for two teams loaded with seniors that don’t seem to like each other a whole lot, what a final chapter could be written if a date in the state championship game is on the line between the two.
Mary O candidates: This is perhaps the most wide-open the Mary Ostrowski Award has been entering a state tournament in recent memory. Some candidates have already finished their seasons while others will have the state’s biggest stage to make a final case this week.
Players like Greenbrier East’s Haley McClure, Fairmont Senior’s Marley Washenitz, Nitro’s Baylee Goins, North Marion’s Taylor Buonamici, Adkins and Hutson from St. Joseph, Ashten Boggs from University and even Kaitlyn Ammons from Morgantown have a chance to make a heck of a closing argument. With the sports writers that will ultimately decide the award on Saturday having front-row seats all week long, will any of them make a final push to grab the state’s biggest individual honor?
Goins vs. the world: Speaking of Goins, I’ve had the pleasure of covering her career from the very start (a win over Poca two seasons ago). But after being ousted in sectional semifinals in each of her first two seasons, Goins put the Wildcats on her back and carried them to the state tournament this year, averaging over 42 points in Nitro’s last three contests. They’ll open in the nightcap Wednesday against No. 4 Lincoln, a team with a veteran head coach in Rob Hawkins and one that is used to the bright lights of the Civic Center. Can Goins continue her postseason fireworks against a defensive-minded, experienced Cougars squad with the whole state watching?
My friends and colleagues: Yes, selfishly this is a great week for a sports writer as well. We are a tight-knit group that communicates throughout the year, and state tournament weeks give us a chance to all be under the same roof for a few days and share war stories, life stories and tales of our craft.
So if you see us all sitting down on press row, know we’re having as much fun as you’re having, we’re just doing a job at the same time. Feel free to stop by and say hi. We’ll be there all week.