It’s not hard to figure out which West Virginia high school girls basketball team is favored as the sectionals resume today around the Mountain State.
North Marion, with junior All-Stater Mariah Byard, stands as the odds-on favorite to repeat as Class AAA state champions.
Of course, with three classes being crowned in the state tournament, which is held March 10-13 at the Charleston Civic Center, the Huskies should win the big-school crown.
A handful of games set in motion the postseason on Saturday, but the bulk of the action takes place this week. Until the 2008-09 season was capped by the Huskies defeating Huntington 66-64, North Marion had flirted with a championship only once. The year was 2002, and Capital featured Alexis Hornbuckle – who went on to win national titles at Tennessee – and Renee Montgomery – who did the same at Connecticut.
Heavy underdogs, the Huskies were beaten 72-45 in the largest margin of victory in the Class AAA championship since 1999, when Wheeling Park defeated George Washington 69-35 – which happens to be the title game record. Despite North Marion’s edge, the Class AAA field appears to be wide open, with once-beaten South Charleston, 2008 champion Parkersburg South and Huntington – the runner-up the last three years – all expecting to reach the final eight.
Also, George Washington is seeking its first state tournament berth since 2006. The Highlanders, under coach Lonnie Lucas, are looking for their fourth consecutive berth in the title game. They’ve lost in the championship the last three years by a combined 14 points and had a combined eight defeats. Huntington expected to enter this season with the favorite for Player of the Year – Whitney Bays – but a knee injury ended her bid for the award.
Picking up the slack for Huntington have been Talequia Hamilton and Erin Bailes, a pair of seniors. As for Parkersburg South, coach Scott Stephens’ team continues to chug along with a 16-3 record with its only in-state loss coming to North Marion. The Patriots have been guided by balance between Mary Seagraves, Kelsi Halbert, Asia Greenleaf, Jessica Moore and Hannah Maston – all of whom have led South in scoring.
South Charleston is one of the dark horses. The Black Eagles have lost to only George Washington, manhandling the bulk of their Mountain State Athletic Conference schedule. The George Washington Patriots have lost only three times to in-state foes – Huntington, Parkersburg South and South Charleston – that have eight combined losses. In Class AA, Summers County has to go back four years to find the last time it hasn’t won a state championship.
The Bobcats lost in the finals in 2006 to Winfield, but has since defeated the Generals (2007) and Lincoln twice (2008, 2009) in the Class AA championship game. Scott, behind the dynamic duo of Ciera Bias and Makenzie White, could surprise Summers. In two meetings this year, the Bobcats earned an eight-point victory in Hinton and a 10-point win in Madison.
The Bobcats carry a 22-0 record into their sectionals, giving them a 50-0 record since the beginning of last season and 61 consecutive victories. Junior Hallie Gunnoe is a 1,000-point scorer for Summers County. She had 38 points, nine rebounds and nine steals against Beckley on Friday.
In Class A, St. Joseph Central enters the postseason as the favorite to claim its second consecutive small-school crown. Senior point guard Dusti Chapman guides the Irish, although balance has been a key for coach Shannon Lewis’ team. Between Chapman, Sara Sang and Stephanie Dorsey, St. Joe’s will be a tough matchup for any Class A opponent.
Last year, the Irish defeated Charleston Catholic in the championship game, marking the sixth consecutive year a private school won the Class A crown and the sixth straight year two Catholic schools played for the title. The last time a public school won the crown was 2003 when Williamstown defeated Wheeling Central.
Rich Stevens, a sportswriter for the Charleston Daily Mail, covers West Virginia for MaxPreps.