WILLIAMSTOWN - If ever a fan wanted to go to basketball heaven, the West Virginia Christian Athletic Tournament set to take place in Summersville, W.Va. this week might be the place they picked to go.
With 22 basketball games set to take place over the course of three days, 10 boys teams and six girls teams will begin their quest towards a state title today.
"It's going to be a huge challenge. There are some good teams," said Wood County Christian senior Josh Ungar.
KEVIN PIERSON The Marietta Times
Wood County Christian's Josh Ungar (33) drives past the defense of Ohio Valley Christian's Chance Burleson (32) during the first quarter of a boys' basketball game at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Jan. 20. Wood County Christian won 55-47.
The Wood County Christian Wildcats took the top seed in the WVCAT, and will face the winner of No. 9 seed Regional, which is located near Delbarton, W.Va., and No. 8 seed Cross Lanes Christian, which is located in Cross Lanes, W.Va., at 8 p.m. today. Cross Lanes and Regional meet at 10:30 a.m. this morning.
The Wood County Christian boys' game is the final game of the day today at Summersville Arena. The winner of that game will then play at 8 p.m. on Friday while the loser plays at 10:30 a.m. Friday.
While the Wildcats are the No. 1 seed, they're not taking their chances at a second state title in three seasons for granted. They understand the skill level arrayed against them in this year's tournament with teams like Greater Beckley, which took a four seed, already having beaten WCCS during the regular season.
"This is probably the most balanced tournament that we've had," said Wood County Christian boys' basketball coach Dan Ellis. "We're going to have to go down there and play really good ball to win it."
Wood County Christian owns a 20-4 record as it heads into the tournament, which helped secure the top seed while also guaranteeing that the Wildcats will not play multiple games on the same day unless falling into the loser's bracket the first game.
Barring a loss in the very first game, the Wildcats will play only one game per day, a tribute given to the top seed.
"That does help in that regard," Ellis noted.
If Wood County Christian wins this evening, they will face the winner of Greater Beckley and Calvary. A loss would mean the Wildcats would play the loser of Mercer and Parkersburg Christian at 9 a.m. on Friday.
"We have to take one game at a time and do our best," Ellis said.
Knowing how important it is to get into the winner's bracket from the first game, the attitude the Wildcats take to their state tournament will be key to their success.
"Every game we play, from the very first game, we have to go out there with the mentality nobody can stop us," Ungar said.
Playing aggressively and with a sense of urgency from the opening tip of the tournament, the Wildcats realize they will need their defense over the course of the weekend and not just an offense that has been averaging 64.5 points a contest.
The defense, however, should create for the offense as well.
"Championship teams play hard on defense, and that creates easy shots on the offensive end," Ungar said.
Senior Kalen Gandor leads the Wildcats as one of four players scoring in double figures this season with a 15.7 per game average. Ungar is next on the team with 12.2 per game while Seth Rataiczak chips in 11.3 a game and Tyler McIntosh is scoring 11.0 a contest.
With four of their five starters scoring in double figures, the Wildcats like their chances to put points on the board in the three day tournament, and they hope the season doesn't end until the championship game, which is slated to take place at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
"We've had a great year," Ungar said. "We don't want to lose. We want to give it our best shot."
Before the Wood County Christian boys can take to the court, the Lady Wildcats will also get their WVCAT run started.
The Lady Wildcats will face Parkersburg Christian at 1:30 p.m. this afternoon in the fourth game of the tournament.
"Our biggest things are hitting our layups and putbacks, taking the shots that we're given and being smart ball handlers," said Wood County Christian girls' basketball coach Dave Weekley.
Wood County Christian's girls, which own a 9-14 record, secured the No. 4 seed in the six team field. Cross Lanes earned the top seed in the girls' bracket while Grace Christian was the two seed.
Parkersburg Christian is a five seed.
The Lady Wildcats have displayed steady improvement throughout the season, and are committed to defensive pressure as Wood County Christian likes to keep the score in the 30s and 40s.
"When we give up points it's because we can't inbound the ball and the other team makes layups and we don't," Weekley said.
The winner of the Lady Wildcats game against Parkersburg Christian will then play top seed Cross Lanes at 1:30 p.m. on Friday. The loser between WCCS and Parkersburg Christian will get a first round bye in the consolation bracket and will face the loser of Teays Valley and Greater Beckley at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
With three games over three days, the tournament is certain to be a test of endurance, which the Lady Wildcats feel they can pass given this year's depth.
"Our roster is deeper this year than all the other Christian schools," Weekley said. "A lot of games we've gone 10 deep in actual playing time."
The depth should be a factor for Wood County Christian as they take part in a steadily growing tournament, which just a few short years ago only had three schools fielding girls' teams.
"The growth of the tournament is very exciting," Weekley said.