PARKERSBURG -The biggest fan of the Parkersburg South's girls basketball team?
Both figuratively and literally, he's sitting on the Patriots' bench in the form of head coach Scott Stephens.
Yes, if you attend a practice at the Rod Oldham Athletic Center you might question that statement as it's quite possible you would witness the otherwise mild-mannered Stephens screaming and/or yelling at his players in order to get their attention and his point across.
Photo by Jeff Baughan
Parkersburg South's Scott Stephens, left, exchanges a hug with Taryn McCutcheon after the Patriots defeated Logan, 58-34, to win the Class AAA state championship last March.
Stephens and his players share a common two-word goal: state champions. It's a goal they accomplished in 2006, 2008 and 2013.
But they've never had a chance to accomplish it the way they are doing it this season. With their 66-46 blasting of University in the Region 1 title game on Tuesday, the Patriots not only clinched a berth in the Class AAA state tournament, but they also will take a 23-0 record to the Charleston Civic Center.
Not only is South three victories away from accomplishing the first back-to-back state basketball championships in school history, but also of becoming the first South team to ever go an entire season without a loss.
The secret to South's success? It starts with Stephens, who recently became the winningest coach in South history. He has guided the Patriots to 209 wins and just 67 losses. Add in the records of previous South head coaches Kathy Roton, Buddy Thomas and Steve Wiseman and the Patriots have recorded 624 wins versus 300 losses.
"We have developed a tradition here,'' said Stephens. "The thing I am proudest of is our repeat success. It's great to see all the little girls in the stands wanting to catch one of the basketballs before the game.''
South also has created an atmosphere for its home games that most believe is second to none. It's a combination of the music, the enthusiasm of PA announcer Ken Davis and the loud and proud Patriot crowd, led by the South Side Psychos, the student cheering section known for its witty yet harmless chants.
Of course, all of this would be moot if South didn't have talented players to put on the court. This year, South's talent runs deep. There are players on the Patriot bench who could start for any other team in the state, but must wait their turn to spell one of South's talented starters.
Running the Patriots' show is sophomore point guard Taryn McCutcheon, who already has given a verbal commitment to play for Michigan State. Stephens marvels not only at her ability to see the floor, but also her unselfish manner of play. She recently set the school record for assists in a game with 14 against George Washington.
She isn't the only member of the starting lineup to write her name into the school record book this year. Against Class A powerhouse Wheeling Central, Keya Bartlett set the single game mark for for steals with 12. A junior, Bartlett already has surpassed the 1,000-point mark for her career and stands in fourth place on the all-time South scoring list, headed by coach Stephens' daughter, Jill.
The most points scored by any Patriot in a single game this season took place in the sectional championship against Wheeling Park when sophomore Anna Hayton exploded for a career-high 32 points. Hayton hasn't just improved her game during the course of the season, but she also has gained a great dose of confidence in her ability to control the inside game.
Hayton and fellow sophomore Carlie Wilson give South a dominating inside presence. Stephens said Wilson is improving her shooting and once she gains confidence in her ability, she will be nearly unstoppable.
One of the best stories on a Patriot team filled with them has been the progress of Katelyn Byrd, who continues to recover from an ACL repair and finally is gaining more lateral movement. As her injury mends, Byrd is gaining confidence and that in turns makes South an even better team.
The most amazing thing about this team? The roster doesn't include a single senior. That's right, the No. 1 team in the state will have everybody back next year, including all those reserve players who are improving every day by working in practice against the starting five.
South not only is the defending state champions but it is the undefeated, undisputed No. 1 team in West Virginia. If the Patriots go to Charleston and win three more games, they'll not only own back-to-back state titles, but they'll add a new word to their already impressive resume - dynasty.