PARKERSBURG - While the Big Reds from Parkersburg will open up play at 8:30 a.m. today at the state volleyball tournament inside the Charleston Civic Center, fellow Class AAA member Parkersburg South and defending Class AA state runner-up Ritchie County take to the floor at 1:30 p.m.
The Big Reds of veteran head coach Carl Harnish have advanced to the big show for the 16th consecutive year and for the 26th time in Harnish's 30-year tenure. PHS (42-13-1) will be opposed by Greenbrier East (41-8-3). The Spartans lost to the Big Reds 28-26 and 25-21 in their only match.
Parkersburg South, under the guidance of Becky Bennett, qualified as one of the final eight teams for the first time since 2007. The Patriots, who were the state runner-up in 2006 and currently have a 20-16 record, will square off against George Washington.
First-year Ritchie County head coach Melanie Allender's Rebels have put together a 24-13 campaign. After coming up short a year ago to Oak Glen in the state finals, the Rebels will begin their quest for a crown against PikeView.
"This is what everybody works for and we are there to see if we can do it," Harnish said of capturing Parkersburg's first state title since 2007. "We're kind of like a staple down there."
If PHS can get past Greenbrier East, the Big Reds would take on the winner of Musselman/Cabell Midland starting at 6:30 p.m.
"I believe our teams are very even. They have a bigger front row with a lot of power," GEHS head coach Matt Sauvage said about the Big Reds and their top mashers of Imani Ward and Paige Warner.
"Our defense is our key. Our ball control is where it's at. I have a lot of respect for the PHS program and their history. This year I truly believe it's an even playing field. The team that plays better Friday morning will win."
That's exactly what coach Harnish believes as well. He said he truly feels that as many as six teams could take the Class AAA crown.
"I think it's going to be a tough contest. I picked them as one of the six teams which could win it. They have a good enough team to do it," Harnish noted. "You're going to have to go through some tough teams and I think our girls have the ability to handle it."
While most everyone around the state considers Parkersburg South a longshot to upend George Washington, don't count coach Bennett among that group.
"For most people, yes. For me, no," Bennett stated. "From what I've heard and what I've seen they have one player (two-time first team all-stater Hannah Shreve). If we can contain that one player and we play the way we know how to play we are going to be fine.
"I tried to tell the girls we have no pressure on us. No one in the state expects us to get past them, nobody, except us. I expect us to win and I know we can win, but nobody else in the state does. That's not an exaggeration. Everybody expects it to be a cakewalk for them and we have different plans."
Ritchie County, which returns all-tournament selections Olivia Haught and Tristin Toman from a year ago, would play the late match this evening against the victor of Herbert Hoover/Philip Barbour if the Rebels can send PikeView packing.
"We have always expected to get back to Charleston," Allender said. "That was the goal at the beginning of the year. We've met that goal and now we've had to make a new goal and that's to win it."
The Rebels have not faced PikeView or Herbert Hoover and knocked off Philip Barbour in their lone meeting earlier this year in Ellenboro.
"Oak Glen and Frankfort are the favorites and I'm glad we don't have to face them right off the bat," Allender added. "I think it's good we are facing someone we don't know much about. Right now the girls feel confident and that's what I like.
"Losing Allison (DeLancey) I think a lot of people put us out because we don't have that player anymore. I think Cassidy Ray has really filled a void and having Allison's little sister Kenna, that doesn't hurt us either. I think we've got a good shot."