WILLIAMSTOWN - Wood County Christian's volleyball players might as well have a bull's-eye on their uniforms.
As the two-time defending state champions, the Mike Conaway-coached Lady Wildcat netters figure be the team to beat in the West Virginia Christian Athletic Tournament (WVCAT) at Charleston Catholic later this fall.
"That's not such a bad thing (being the team to beat)," said Conaway, who will be starting his 20th season at the WCCS volleyball helm. He is also the school's athletic director.
"It was tough to repeat as state champions," continued Conaway, "and I expect it will probably be even harder to three-peat."
In the Conaway era, Wood County Christian has claimed five state titles since 2001. During the last 12 years, the Lady Wildcats have competed in the WVCAT final tilt every season but two ((2010 and 2011).
Last year, WCCS defeated Teays Valley to repeat as state champs.
Wood County Christian volleyball
Head coach: Mike Conaway
Aug. 22 GRACE 6 p.m.
Aug. 26 at Belpre 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 at Parkersburg Christian 6 p.m.
Sept. 2 ELK VALLEY 6 p.m.
Sept. 5 TRI-MATCH (Teays Valley) 5 p.m.
Sept. 8 at St. Marys 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Ohio Valley 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 12 at Grace 6 p.m.
Sept. 16 CROSS LANES 5 p.m.
Sept. 19 at Calvary 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Teays Valley 5 p.m.
Sept. 27 ST. MARYS 3 p.m.
Sept. 29 BELPRE 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 PARKERSBURG CHRISTIAN 5:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 PARKERSBURG CATHOLIC 7 p.m.
Oct. 10-11 at Parkersburg Christian tournament
Oct. 14 CALVARY 6 p.m.
Oct. 16 at Tyler Consolidated (quad) 5:30 p.m.
Oct. 20 LICKING COUNTY 6 p.m.
Oct. 23-25 WVCAT tourney
From that 2013 squad, Wood County Christian graduated four seniors, three of whom were starters -Adria Herridge (middle hitter), Sarah Rataiczak (setter), and Katie Ward (setter). Rebecca Morris was the other senior to receive her diploma this past spring.
When WCCS officially begins practice on Aug. 4, Conaway is expecting several returnees and a good overall turnout on the court.
"Back in the spring, to see what kind of numbers we had, we had about 20 show up," he said. "This week, we're having an in-house camp for the high school and middle school, and we're hoping to have around 30 (on the court)."
The in-house camp will be from Tuesday to Thursday at Wood County Christian in Williamstown, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (high school) and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. (middle school) each day. Marietta High head volleyball coach Ron Kidder will be the director, Conaway said.
Of the varsity players returning, Conaway has a good mix of both veterans and younger players. And, Rachel Ruble, the starting libero as a freshman and sophomore, is back for her senior season after sitting out last fall.
Rinnah Ward, another senior, may not be able to compete due to tearing her ACL while playing basketball. Right now, she's a question mark.
Some of the other seniors will be Demichelle Krupinski, Heather Lord, and Hannah Lord.
"Demichelle is a very powerful hitter," Conaway said. "And, the Lord girls (identical twins) were able to alternate from outside hitter to libero last season."
Some other 'Cats to keep an eye on will be junior setters' Stacia Browning and Olivia Eckels, and sophomore hitters' Sarah Barnes and Maggie Frock.
"We've actually got a pretty big sophomore class," Conaway said.
Conaway is expecting his team to be challenged again by Teays Valley and Greater Beckley, which was narrowly defeated by Teays in the 2013 state semis. Some of the other schools on the WCCS slate will be Cross Lanes, Grace Christian of Huntington, Paden City, St. Marys, Tyler Consolidated, Belpre, and Parkersburg Catholic.
"It's a tough schedule," Conaway said. "But through the years, we've been very successful."
"We're just going to have to work and play hard as a team - and not worry about individual stats."