Seven Kanawha Valley prep soccer teams went into the regional round and seven came out, giving all of them berths into the state tournament semifinals, to be held Friday at Paul Cline Memorial Sports Complex in Beckley.
A year after earning half the 16 state tournament spots — four teams in boys and girls in Class AAA and Class AA-A — the Kanawha Valley will settle for one less. But with Region 1 winners matching up with Region 4 winners and Region 2 facing Region 3 in semifinals, all but one game on Friday will contain a Kanawha County or Putnam County representative.
Within those seven teams are a myriad of story lines, histories and motivating factors ahead of Friday’s contests.
Three of them — George Washington boys, Winfield boys and Hurricane girls — are defending state champions. Three of them, with storied traditions, are trying to end title droughts (Charleston Catholic boys last won in 2014, Catholic girls in 2015 and Winfield girls in 2016). And one of them, George Washington’s girls team, is still searching for the first state crown in program history.
Once in Beckley, all will find unique and challenging paths to that final prize, with the Winfield girls team (18-5-1) opening up the tournament with a Class AA-A game against Oak Glen at 9:30 a.m. The Charleston Catholic girls (20-1) will face Bridgeport after the conclusion of the first match.
On the Class AAA field, Cabell Midland and University square off at 10 a.m. in a boys match with GW (21-2) and Hedgesville set to follow.
After the morning matches conclude, play will halt until 4:30 and 5 p.m., when both fields fire back up again.
In Class AA-A boys, Winfield (19-1-4) faces Fairmont Senior at 4:30, followed by Charleston Catholic (19-1-3) against Robert C. Byrd.
The other set of semifinals, Class AAA girls, pits Hurricane (19-2-1) against Morgantown at 5 p.m., followed by George Washington (15-5-2) vs. Hedgesville.
Class AA-A girls
The Winfield girls have the only first-year coach making the trip in Jade Smith, a former Generals player. Though Smith is part of Winfield’s storied past, a record five titles in a row 2012-2016 and eight overall, her time with the program came without a state tournament appearance. So Friday will mark her debut in the semifinals.
“It feels awesome,” Smith said. “When I was at Winfield, we made it to regionals and never to states. It used to be all classes together and we always lost that regional game.”
These Generals players, however, are no strangers to Beckley. The program is making its ninth straight trip to the state tournament. Included in that mix are senior forward Julianne Pauley (24 goals), senior midfielder Peyton Frohnapfel (19 goals, 12 assists) and junior midfielder Ava Hall (16 goals, 17 assists), the team’s statistical leaders.
While Winfield packs plenty of experience, so does the Charleston Catholic girls squad, which is making a sixth straight trek to Beckley with plenty of unfinished business to attend to. The Irish put together the best regular season of any Valley team and have wins over Hurricane and Winfield.
Yet in Bridgeport, Charleston Catholic faces the only team to defeat the Irish in the regular season. With Catholic looking to snap a string of three straight losses in the state championship game, coach Amy Mullen knows that any ideas of completing that goal will have to begin with a tough Indians bunch on Friday morning.
“We just have to be prepared all the way across,” Mullen said. “My seniors are motivated to get this done as well as my juniors. I keep telling them, we’ve got a pretty solid team across. They’re able to get it done, it’s up to them. They can do it, but it’s one step at a time.”
The Irish start just two seniors, defender Jenna Panaro and goalkeeper Katie Nester, who combined with center back Audrey Miller have buoyed a defensive unit that has yielded just six goals this season. Junior midfielder Lindsay Carr leads the team in goals (20) and assists (12).
Class AAA boys
Cabell Midland and University will start the big-school boys proceedings at 10 a.m. with George Washington squaring off with Hedgesville after. The Patriots will attempt to do something never done before in program history — win back-to-back championships. GW has five total titles to its credit and enters Friday with a senior-laden team full of experience, skill and athleticism at all levels.
“I think it takes a little bit of the pressure off knowing that we’ve been there quite a bit,” senior defender Zak Abdul-Jalil said. “This will be our fourth year in a row. Honestly, we kind of look at Beckley as a second home for us. We’re happy to be there.”
Abdul-Jalil, the newly pegged Kanawha Valley Boys Player of the Year, likely will see time at both the front and back of the Patriots attack. His presence at forward has helped free up scoring threats Max Trethewey (22 goals) and EJ Davis (20) with Solomon Clark (12 goals, 10 assists) looming as a threat in the midfield as well.
Class AA-A boys
After the morning wave of games, a break will conclude at 4:30 with the Winfield boys taking on Fairmont Senior and searching for a second straight championship. The teams played to a 0-0 draw in the regular season.
The Generals have relied on a senior-heavy defense anchored by goalie Nathan Lanham and backs Richard Smith and Jacob Verno among others, but lately, junior Braxton Vanscoy has come alive. He booted in four goals against Point Pleasant in a Region 4 final and enters the state tournament with 39.
“Last year when we went in there, everybody was like, ‘They’re inexperienced, they won’t make it,’” Vanscoy said. “But we made it happen. This year with the experience, we definitely have a chance with this team.”
The Class AA-A boys field may be the most wide open of any in Beckley with another doozy between Charleston Catholic and Robert C. Byrd in the nightcap. The teams met in the regular season and the Irish won 2-1.
The Irish boast a balanced scoring attack with contributions from Wil Swan (33 goals, 20 assists), David Kershner (26 goals), Zion Suddeth (13 goals, 18 assists) and Aidan Paul (15 assists). But against Byrd, Catholic will have to slow one of the state’s most explosive forwards in Khori Miles, who carries 51 goals and 13 assists into the state tournament.
“We have to do all of the other things, especially win in the midfield,” Catholic coach Niall Paul said. “We have to deal with [Miles] as a team. With someone like that, you have to deal with him as a team. We’re not going to man mark him, it will take a team effort.”
Class AAA girls
Just a half hour after Winfield’s boys begin their pursuit of a title defense, the Hurricane girls will do the same on the Class AAA field, matching up with Morgantown at 5 p.m. The Mohigans handed Hurricane a 3-0 defeat late in the regular season, one of just two losses for the Redskins so far on the year.
Making matters more difficult, the Redskins will be without sophomore forward Bailey Fisher, who tore her ACL in a 2-0 win over Parkersburg South in a Region 4 final. Fisher set the unofficial state record for goals in a season this year with 66.
But maybe lost behind that is the fact that Hurricane also boasts maybe the stingiest defense in the state with only five goals allowed all season. Coach Shelly Young said her team will have to rely on that more than ever this weekend.
“We were going to have to do something different against Morgantown regardless,” Young said. “We were rattled the first time against them. They’re skillful and we’re going to have to play to our strengths, keep our composure and stay disciplined.”
Junior goalkeeper Olivia Bird leads the Kanawha Valley with 19 shutouts with freshman Madison Francis as well as juniors Sydnee Bell, Abby Fowler and Maddie Mayberry making up that tough defensive unit. Senior Dani Ray (13 goals, 20 assists) will look to take up the offensive slack.
Finally, rounding out the day will be the GW girls playing Hedgesville a half hour after Hurricane finishes up.
The Patriots lost seven starters from last year’s squad, but Kanawha Valley Girls Coach of the Year Ali Sadeghian guided his team back behind a trio of explosive scorers in junior Kalissa Lacy (20 goals, 26 assists), sophomore Linsey Hackney (28 goals, 20 assists) and freshman Ava Trethewey (19 goals, 14 assists).
Unlike last year’s squad, this year’s Patriots team is fairly young, and Sadeghian said that youth has brought with it a free and easy mindset this week.
“The one thing about this team is there’s not that pressure or that level of expectation as much as last year,” Sadeghian said. “These girls have nothing to lose and they’ve done a great job to get us this far. We’re going in as an underdog.”
The Class AA-A girls title game will start first at 9:30 a.m. Saturday with the boys Class AAA game beginning at 10:30. The boys championship game in Class AA-A will go off 45 minutes after the girls game ends and vice versa with the Class AAA girls.