PARKERSBURG - From 1995 to 2009, Parkersburg High's boys soccer team played in eight state tournaments, winning six.
Now three years after their last state appearance, the Big Reds are back in the Final Four and intent on capturing state championship No. 7, all coming under the tutelage of veteran head coach Don Fosselman.
Last week's rainy, windy, colder weather spawned by Hurricane Sandy threw a wrench into the state soccer schedule, not only pushing it back four days to Tuesday and Wednesday, but also necessitating a move from snow-bound Beckley to Charleston's Schoenbaum Soccer Complex.
Photo courtesy of Tim Yeater
Parkersburg High’s boys soccer team will be playing in the Class AAA state tournament starting Tuesday at Schoenbaum Soccer Complex in Charleston. The Big Reds squad, shown after capturing the regional championship to advance to the state, is composed of, front row, from left, Travon Nelson, Cameron Fosselman, Tyler Bro, Garrett Kruger, Tommy Logston, Cam Morris, Tyler Broadwater, Zac Wilcoxen, Nick Payne, Hunter Hill; back row, assistant coach Eric McCoy, Jack Terosky, Logan Hughes, Adrian Burk, Eric Scott, Saaman Ghodsi, Austin Yeater, Tyler Miller, assistant coach Doug Swearingen, Matt Powney, Reid Strobl, Evan Rhodes, Brandon DeCicco, Tyler Parsons, assistant coach Donnie Fosselman and head coach Don Fosselman.
Action for 16-3-4 PHS is set to begin Tuesday in the Class AAA semifinals versus 16-5-2 George Washington 30 minutes following the first semifinal at 5 p.m. pitting 21-0-1 Hurricane against 14-6-1 Hedgesville. The two winners then square off Wednesday for the AAA state crown 45 minutes after the conclusion of the 10:30 a.m. AAA girls state championship match.
''We're excited about going back to the state tournament,'' said Fosselman, 62, in his 25th year coaching the Big Red boys. He added that having the tournament delayed as well as the venue changed didn't make a difference. ''It's business as usual,'' said Fosselman. ''We're going to play wherever, whenever. We can hardly wait to play.''
Fosselman thought defending state champion ''GW and us are almost identical kind of teams. We both have good keepers (with junior Reid Strobl in the net for PHS), and we don't really have a star,'' although noting that junior Nick Payne has 13 or 14 goals, senior Garrett Kruger 13 and junior Evan Rhodes 9. ''So we don't have that dynamic scorer, and they don't either, but both of us just have a bunch of of good soccer players who play well as a team.''
Against the rest of the AAA state-tourney field this year, the Big Reds are 0-1-1 with a 3-0 loss at GW Sept. 4 and a 1-1 tie at Hurricane Oct. 11, while GW is 1-1, having lost 2-1 at Hurricane Sept. 13, and Hurricane 1-0-1. None of the three played Hedgesville this season.
PHS' state titles under Fosselman came in three back-to-back increments - 1996-97, 2005-06 and 2008-09. His first trip, though, to the state as the Big Red boys soccer mentor was in 1995, when PHS was runner-up to Buckhannon-Upshur. The Big Reds' only other non-championship winning state-tourney appearance was in 2004, again finishing as runner-up, this time to Woodrow Wilson.
''For a long time, I didn't realize that we could be that good,'' said Fosselman. ''And once mentally it was in my head, then I had to convince my kids that we were that good every year. And we work hard. It's a year-round program, we lift weights and do a lot of conditioning. Teams can be pretty even with us in the first half, but then in the second half, we kind of take over a little bit.
''But we have a mindset now that started with me actually believing that we could, and ever since '95, I expect to us go back (to the state) every year.''
Still the last two years, Fosselman's crew hasn't accomplish that feat, as ''we've run into a buzzsaw in Hurricane,'' he said.
''And for us to win it all this year, we have to do everything perfect. There's not much of a leeway. When you have someone like a Brian Runyon (PHS' all-time career scoring leader with 120 goals who graduated in the spring), you can make a mistake here and there, because you know he's going to cover up. He covers a lot of sins.''
But ''Runyon was a special player,'' said Fosselman of the two-time West Virginia Player of the Year. ''And this year, the last thing we don't have is that special player. But we do have devoted and dedicated players who have gotten us this far, and that right there says a lot about the character of this team.''