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ALBRIGHT: Parkersburg South girls’ opening five-game road trip will tell us a lot

By the time the home crowd finally sees the Parkersburg South girls basketball team, we all are going to know a lot about them.

Are they the group that once again puts off the dreaded rebuild? Teams before them have skillfully avoided that since the graduation of Anna Hayton and Katelyn Byrd’s group.

Is this team fully up to the task of taking on a tough schedule that is almost to the point of being relentless? Or is this group still a work in progress and somewhere in between?

Three distinct directions. One road trip to set them on their course.

Fresh off a shortened training camp, the Patriots embark on a five-game road trip spanning 10 days and four counties, starting with University on opening night (March 3). It’s one of the program’s longest road trips to start the season in several years, made more challenging by the fact head coach Rick Dobson and a young team won’t have much practice time between games. That largely inhibits their ability to get back on the same page after each contest.

And if the travel and schedule aren’t enough, the opponents present plenty of challenging obstacles on their own.

“It is important to win but we have to play competition to get better,” Dobson said. “If we get beat up a bit that is okay.

In all, South faces two 2019 state tournament qualifiers, a 2019 regional co-finalist, a St. Albans team that pushed rival Parkersburg High to the limit last season, and a Spring Valley group looking to make some noise. That is a tall task even if University said goodbye to Class AAA first-team all-state player Ashten Boggs, forcing the Hawks into an unknown situation themselves, albeit it one where state-tournament-experienced players return to the floor.

“In a normal year, you don’t mind it. Everything is about getting better. But I am afraid with this year being a short season older teams who are more experienced are going to do really well at least in the beginning,” said PHS head coach Scott Cozzens, who regularly puts his Big Reds in challenging scenarios with his scheduling.

It certainly provides a crucial test for a Patriot team grappling with a new offense and introducing new players to the varsity court.

When Dobson summoned the roster back together, he still only looked at a group with three who played major varsity minutes in 2019. It is a formula that presents problems against the much more gelled opponents awaiting them.

“It’s not that the other girls aren’t talented,” South senior Riley Harner said. “But they don’t have the varsity experience and even in the the offseason that doesn’t compare to what it is like when you have varsity games under your belt.

“You can always count on Wheeling Park and Morgantown to put five quality players on the court.”

In previous years, this wouldn’t have been a problem. There was usually a great level of state tournament experience returning along with a couple of the previous year’s groups leading scorers. For Dobson, this isn’t the case, and that is highly concerning but also presents an opportunity.

“It can help your kids but it could also go a couple of different ways, it is a bit of a double-edged sword,” said Cozzens. “The returners get to play in big time situations, but this is the the first time in a long time South hasn’t had a big kid on the team. And Park and Morgantown each have a skilled big.

“If things go south on South it could hurt the confidence of those younger players. But Dobson also is going to learn who wants to come out and compete right away. It becomes a little easier for them to play and he can see how they mesh as a team and then he can trust them a little more. If the girls go out and compete hard it creates a little bit of depth.”

It won’t require winning all those contests or even playing the best basketball possible. Just arriving home for a date with the Big Reds in possession of a 2-3 record or 1-4 mark where every game was tightly contested would be considered a success.

And that bar certainly seems to be within reach for the Patriots.

It’s why Harner sounds so confident about this group.

“I don’t think there is much that can intimidate us after the schedule we played last season as we head into this year. We are all just excited to play,” Harner said. “Our team is good at staying positive and working hard at the end of the day. We are going to surprise a lot of people.”

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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