PARKERSBURG - With the absence of George Washington, a new Class AAA state volleyball champion will be crowned on Saturday inside the Charleston Civic Center.
For the second consecutive year, both Parkersburg and Parkersburg South will vie for the honor of being the last team standing in the big school division.
Although the Big Reds of head coach Carl Harnish are in the state field for the 16th straight campaign and have been there for 27 of the 32 seasons Harnish has been at the helm, just getting to the finals at 9:30 a.m. Saturday will be difficult enough.
PHS (52-7-1) will begin play at 8:30 a.m. Friday against Cabell Midland and is likely to face No. 1 Musselman in Friday night's semifinals if the Applemen (41-6) get past their quarterfinal opponent Capital.
"I don't know how many years in a row now, but it seems like ever year we are in the same bracket with them," Harnish said of Musselman and head coach Shawn Martz. "That blind draw. I just can't understand it. You only have four teams to seed. How hard would that be to do?"
Of course, before getting to the semifinals the Big Reds have to defeat the Knights, something which hasn't been a problem thus far.
"We've played them about four or five times and we've beat them each time in two (sets)," Harnish added. "Some games were close and some games weren't. It's going to be a tough battle."
Parkersburg has been led by Alexandra Dils and her 539 kills, but the duo of Courtney Ball and Samantha Shingleton have combined for 530 downed spikes. Setter Lyxi Reeder is 34 assists shy of 1,000 while Kaitlin Farrah (341) and Nicole Bradford (226) lead the red and white in digs.
Parkersburg South (32-13-1) begins its single-elimination state tournament run against regional champion Spring Valley, a program the Patriots lost to in early September during their only meeting.
"We had a night where we couldn't do anything right and it's not the same lineup I've been running for the last month and a half," said PSHS head coach Becky Bennett.
"Playing a complete game is our biggest thing and what we were missing last time (versus Spring Valley) was our blocking."
If the Patriots are to advance to Friday night's semifinals against the Greenbrier East/Martinsburg winner it indeed will take a team effort. Kayleigh Rexroad paces the Patriots with 74 solo blocks and has added 185 kills. Kasey Williams leads Parkersburg South in downed spikes with 256 and has added 279 digs. Libero Logan Somerville has a team-high 403 digs and setter Taylor Ratliff has 780 assists and 74 aces.
Musselman, which is led by junior Taylor Lord - a first team all-state selection a year ago - has played for the state championship five of the last six seasons. The Applemen last won it all in 2010 by beating Parkersburg.
"I like our chances," Martz said of winning the title after finishing as state runner-up the past two seasons. "We're not overlooking anybody, but we're certainly ready to play the whole weekend.
"I think these kids are as ready as any group I've had going in physically, mentally and emotionally."