Generally speaking, going into the prep volleyball season here in the Mountain State, things are usually pretty clear.
By that I mean it's fairly well known who is going to be the top dogs and the odds-on favorites to win state titles in each of the three classes.
Perhaps this year more than any other, at least in my mind, I don't believe things are nearly as transparent across the board.
As far as Parkersburg and Parkersburg South goes in Class AAA, they both appear to have more than favorable odds of reaching the state tournament again. Obviously, the Big Reds, who made the state semifinals last fall, are one of the favorites to bring home the top prize. That's something veteran red and white head coach Carl Harnish's squad hasn't done since 2007.
When it comes to the Class AA field, one has to think the same old song and dance might apply again this season.
For each of the past two years, the final match on championship Saturday inside the Charleston Civic Center has involved two great programs in Oak Glen and Ritchie County. Of course, the Rebels ended up coming out on the short end of the stick as the Golden Bears have managed to take home back-to-back double-A state crowns.
Both of these programs have to be considered as more than strong contenders and the Rebels do bring back sophomore second-team all-state pick Kenna DeLancey.
"We got work to do," admitted Rebel head coach Melanie Allender. "We don't have any seniors at all. We're all sophomores and juniors. It's all about communication and growing up.
"They'll get there. I've got faith in them. I think we'll be there again. It's really just a matter of growing up."
The only other all-state selection in Class AA from the Mid-Ohio Valley is Ravenswood senior Katie Buckbee, who was a first-team honoree a year ago. The biggest problem for the Red Devils in reaching Charleston comes from the fact if they make the sectional finals and don't beat likely top seed Ritchie County, Oak Glen awaits in the regional semifinals.
I'm glad to hear Tyler Consolidated head coach Richard Summers is walking now without crutches after having a bicycle crash this summer. His Silver Knights lost five talented seniors, but do have a quartet of 12th-graders this year.
TCHS fell in the Class A state finals to Williamstown, which lost seven key seniors to graduation. The Yellowjackets, though, had a good showing last weekend at the Bulldog Bash in Doddridge County as they took runner-up honors to Philip Barbour.
Obviously, one never can count out Wirt County in the small-school ranks, but I also think Gilmer County and Magnolia will be up there to challenge the likes of Williamstown and the Silver Knights.
The Titans do return second-team all-stater Julie Bishop while Mallory Chapman, a first-team selection, is back to power the Blue Eagles, who were ousted by Williamstown in the state semifinals.
Contact Jay Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org