ST. MARYS-Veteran St. Marys head girls basketball coach Howard Meeks II understood before his Blue Devils kicked off the 2012-13 season that his unit returned a lot of talent from a team that lost out on a chance to go to the W.Va. State High School Basketball Tournament a year ago.
He also understood that the road to the Mountain State's capital would not be an easy one.
"We had a lot of talent coming back, so we expected to be here," said Meeks during Sunday's coaches meeting at the WVSSAC office. "But, we had a lot of talent on last year's squad and we stubbed our toes in the sectional and ended up not getting to go back to Charleston."
St. Marys coach Howard Meeks II?discusses strategy with the Blue Devils. St. Marys will take a 25-1 mark into Wednesday’s 9:30 a.m. state tourney game vs. Tygarts Valley.
That is not be the case for the No. 3 seeded Blue Devils (23-1) this season as St. Marys swept through the Region I, Section 2 bracket with lopsided wins over Tyler Consolidated (78-36) and Trinity Christian (52-30) and then eliminated Magnolia from tournament play with a 70-29 victory in the regional finals.
"What makes this team unique is that we don't do just one thing well," said Meeks. "We are able to adapt to whatever a team throws at us. If they want to play us man-to-man then we'll run our man-to-man offenses. If they want to play us zone, then we will run our zone offenses. Then, if they want to press, then we will run our press offenses. So far this season we have had an answer for just about everything a team has thrown at us."
Only once did the purple and gold stumble on the season and it came on the Blue Devils' home court when No. 2 seed Wheeling Central Catholic dealt the Blue Devils a 57-53 setback.
"We took that game and we learned from it," Meeks said. "We realized that some other players were going to have to step up if we were going to make a run and get back here."
And, those players have stepped up.
Senior Audra Clark, a two-time Class A all-state performer, leads the way with an 18.0 points per game average as well as 10 rebounds per game. But, junior Kendra Walker has joined her as a double-double threat as the 6-foot, 4-inch post player chips in with 13.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per outing.
It doesn't end with that duo, however, as senior Abbi Fetty has started to hit some big shots from the perimeter and is averaging 10.1 points per game while the remainder of the starting five-senior Dani Moore and junior Mikaela Britton-contribute 7.3 and 6.2 points per game, respectively.
The Blue Devils also have plenty of depth as freshman Ashley Hall (9.3 ppg) and junior Haley Everett (2.3) have been giving the Meeks some big minutes off of the bench.
"We have girls who understand their roles and what we expect out of them," said the coach. "When all of our players do the things that we expect them to do, then we are a pretty tough out for any body we play."
That first opponent at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday will be No. 6 Tygarts Valley (17-7). The two teams have met once this season with the Blue Devils hanging a 71-43 setback on the Bulldogs in an opening round game in the W.Va. Hometown Invitational Tournament.
"Having played them (St. Marys) already, we understand what we are up against," said Tygarts Valley head coach Mike DiPasquale. "When we came in for practice on Friday, we had an idea of what we needed to get ready for."
The Bulldogs advanced to their first state tournament appearance since the 2003 season with wins over Clarksburg Notre Dame (58-43) and Tucker County (53-22) in the sectionals and via a 45-40 win over Pocahontas County in the regional championship game.
"We're an up-tempo type of team," said the coach. "But, if we have to, we can slow it down."
Tygarts Valley is led in scoring by senior Shanda Howell (19.0 ppg) and junior Paige Pritt (9.3). The remainder of the starting five will consist of senior Erin Murphy (3.8) and juniors Emily Pingley (5.0) and Kelsey Arbogast (6.4). Also look for junior Charity Lower (2.3), sophomores Morgan Daniels (1.3), Makayla Harris (1.9) and Kelsey Wyss (2.3) and freshmen Audrie Fox (1.1) and Caitlyn Murphy (0.5) to see action.
"We're excited to be back," said DiPasquale. "We're not thrilled at playing the 9:30 a.m. game, but we start school at 7 a.m. so our kids are used to getting up early."
The winner of Wednesday's opening round game will take on the winner of No. 2 Wheeling Central and No. 7 Valley Fayette at 9:30 a.m. on Friday in the semifinals.