ST. MARYS-It's been a while since the purple and gold of St. Marys High School has graced the hardwood at the Charleston Civic Center during the West Virginia State High School Girls Basketball Tournament.
So long that even head coach Howard Meeks doesn't remember.
"That's history," said the Blue Devils' boss. "I'm a math teacher."
While Meeks isn't sure when St. Marys last visited the state tournament, he is sure when the Pleasants County team last won it all-1990.
"Our girls program was pretty strong in the late 80s and early 90s," said Meeks. "I'm pretty sure we won back-to-back titles when we were in Class AA."
In fact the Blue Devils' second Class AA crown-the first came in 1985 when they defeated Sissonville by a 61-56 score-came in 1989 when the purple and gold completed an undefeated season (26-0) with a 62-42 win over Hinton. No.3 came a year later when St. Marys dealt West Preston a 56-33 defeat in the championship game.
"All I can tell you is that it has been a long time," added Meeks. "My No. 1 goal when I took over this program was to return it to respectability and I think we've done that."
That and more as the Devils enter the opening round as the state's No. 1 Class A team in the Associated Press' final poll and as the tournament's No. 2 seed behind defending state champion Huntington St. Joseph.
St. Marys (22-1) punched its ticket to the Mountain State's capital city with a 74-44 victory over Bishop Donahue in the regional finals after getting out of a sectional tournament which included No. 3 Parkersburg Catholic and No. 5 Williamstown.
"We've had to earn everything we've gotten this season," said Meeks. "When you play in a sectional with the likes of Williamstown and Parkersburg Catholic nothing comes easy."
That trend will continue at 1 p.m. on Thursday when the Blue Devils' take on perrenial tournament entrant Wheeling Central in one of four first round contests.
"They (Wheeling Central) seem to always be in Charleston," added the coach. "They will definitely have the experience factor on their side."
Experience is right. The Maroon Knights (12-12), who defeated Williamstown by a 51-43 margin in the regionals, will be making their 15th trip in the last 17 years to the Civic Center.
Senior forward Caitlin Creighton leads the way with a 10.9 points per game average followed closely by sophomore Cassie Sorge, who chips in 10.6 points per game. Rounding out the expected starting five will be seniors Kelsea Crawshaw (3.7 ppg) and Alex Greco (4.3) at forward and guard, respectively, with junior guard Molly Kurtz (4.7) rounding out the unit.
But, experience isn't the only thing going for the girls in maroon and white as depth is also an important ingredient to its recent success. Look for junior Ali Niggemyer (4.9) and freshmen Colleen McCormick (6.8) and Emily Brown (4.8) to see plenty of action as well as sophomores Ashley Martin and Bri Robbins.
St. Marys will counter with all state guard Kelsea Fickiesen, who finished fourth in the Player of the Year balloting, senior center Sara O'Neal, sophomores Dani Renner and Ali Johnson and standout freshman Audra Clark in its starting five.
Fickiesen leads the way with a 21.0 points per game average while O'Neal chips in 14.7 points and nearly as many rebounds per game. Clark has made the most of her first varsity season as the 5-foot-11 center/forward averages 9.8 points per game while Renner is at 8.5 ppg and Johnson is at 4.1.
Depth has also been a key ingredient in the Blue Devils' success as seniors Katy Yeager (4.2 ppg), Rebecca Miller and Gwen Brammer, sophomore Beverly Knight and freshmen Abbi Fetty and Dani Moore will see action.
The winner of Thursday's opening round contest will advance to Friday's semifinal round where it will take on the winner of No. 3 Tucker County (14-4) and No. 6 Trinity (19-3) at 11:15 a.m.