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Crusaderettes are early LKC frontrunners

PARKERSBURG — For the last two seasons, the Little Kanawha Conference girls’ basketball title game consisted of the same two teams and similar outcomes.

LKC West champion Parkersburg Catholic beat East champion Gilmer County.

Should COVID-19 not force the cancellation of the upcoming season, St. Marys head coach Howie Meeks suspects Gilmer vs. Catholic: Part III is on the way at Glenville State College’s Waco Center in March.

“They are the favorites right now,” he said in a phone interview on Saturday. “One advantage they have is they actually got to play a game at the state tournament last year in Charleston. They have some strong postseason experience to come off of. And Gilmer got a big win over Wheeling Central in that quarterfinal. They obviously have the clear-cut advantage and they are experienced.”

“Until someone steps up and crosses the threshold it should be Gilmer and Catholic in a rematch,” Meeks added.

Overcoming that obstacle won’t be easy – not at all.

A pair of LKC Player of the Year Candidates power both teams. They, in turn, receive support from a number of seasoned veterans and, of course, two of the top coaches in the conference. The Crusaderettes also return more points per game than Meeks’ Blue Devils scored per contest last season.

He also has confidence both coaches will have their teams ready to go.

“Both Marty (Vierheller) and Amy (Chapman) get a lot out of their talent. They are very prepared and make very few mistakes. They both play aggressive styles and will adapt to the talent level they have. You have to do that to be as successful as both of them have been,” Meeks said.

Reigning league player of the year Leslie Huffman alongside teammate Aaliyah Brunny make things a little easier for Vierheller. Trinity Bancroft and Carrah Ferguson ease Chapman’s burden. All four are dependable scorers, who have also shown the ability to be solid leaders.

And they just happen to lead two of the more experienced starting fives in the entire league. If everything stays true from last season, everyone on the floor for both teams in their openers will have seen a pretty significant amount of time on the top unit. Four of the five Crusaderettes can boast they played in a state championship game, while Gilmer’s girls have the aforementioned win over the Maroon Knights to build off of. That means Vierheller and Chapman already are further ahead of many teams. Especially with the fact that everyone only got four days of practice in before Gov. Jim Justice shuttered practices due to rising COVID numbers in the state.

Teams needing that time together are instead now left waiting and may require time when the season begins before they are fully comfortable.

Speaking of the coronavirus, Meeks sees the pandemic possibly causing problems if two or three players go into quarantine. Though a vaccine is on the way, Justice hasn’t informed the public on when it will be available to the them. Which means if a player tests positive, they could potentially be out for seven to ten days. And one or two games could easily mean the difference in playing for a title or in the third-place game.

“They are still the head of the class on both sides though,” Meeks said.

When it comes to teams that may be able to break up the third meeting, Meeks doesn’t think there are many. “I would hope to have a front row seat if that should happen,” he said with a chuckle. It isn’t hard to see why. Next to Catholic, the Blue Devils have one of the deepest teams in the LKC West. Like PCHS, most of his starting five returns. Likewise, Williamstown and Ritchie may be young but have talented athletes. Now it is just a manner of putting all the pieces together.

“On the other side, Braxton graduated a lot of their offense. Webster and Calhoun have a lot of experience. And that is going to push Gilmer and it is what makes are conference nice is you get better by playing. What makes it more special is that when you have motivated players then special things can happen.

“Someone has to believe they are the next NC State to Gilmer’s and Catholic’s Houston and someone is going to have to step up,” Meeks said. “I would have to see it to believe it.”

Other things to know about the 2021 Little Kanawha Conference girls’ basketball season:

WHO’S BACK

Huffman and Bancroft are the only returning players who earned Class A All-State First-Team honors last season.

Huffman, the reigning player of the year, averaged 19.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, two assists and 2.8 steals. She returns to the court this season with an improved shooting game on top of her already stellar defensive abilities. Bancroft, who exploded for 35 points in a Class A state quarterfinal against Wheeling Central, led the Titans in scoring last season at 16.7 ppg. She’s reportedly put more effort into improving on the defensive side of the floor over the offseason.

Brunny was named captain of the second team, even though she put up first-team numbers with 16.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.8 steals, and 1.9 blocks per game.

Other top players include:

Webster County’s Sydney Baird (23 ppg, 50% FG shooting); Ravenswood’s Annie Hunt (18.3 ppg, 3.6 apg); Calhoun County’s Josie Montgomery (17.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg); Ritchie County’s Rebekah Rupert (14.9 ppg, 11.8 rpg ); Wirt County’s Emma Wyer (13 ppg, 11.4 rpg); St. Marys’ Kylie Wright (11.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Williamstown’s Jayla Wiseman (10.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Roane County’s Faith Mason (12.5 ppg, 6 rpg).

STARTING THE POD SYSTEM A YEAR EARLY

In an effort to minimize travel and to allow teams to schedule more non-conference opponents, the LKC returns to a pod system this upcoming year. Each side will consist of a north and south subgroup. Teams will play everyone on their side twice and everyone on the other side, once.

Though the most logical next step is a semifinal with both pod winners to determine who goes on to play in the championship game, that isn’t what will happen.

Rather, the winner of the most games in the East and West will play in the title game. Runner-up on each side battles for third-place.

Teams also will have the option to play someone in the other pod a second time, but that contest will not count in the overall standings.

The arrangement cuts down the number of league games played for each team from 15 to 11.

This is what the pods look like:

LKC West

North pod: Williamstown, Tyler, Ritchie, St. Marys

South pod: Ravenswood, Wahama, Wirt and Parkersburg Catholic

LKC East

North pod: South Harrison, Calhoun County, Gilmer County, Doddridge County

South pod: Webster County, Clay County, Roane County, Braxton County

SCHEDULING

With the new pod system comes also comes a new scheduling system for league games, certain nights are now reserved for the boys and girls, respectively.

All girl’s games will be played on Wednesday’s and Friday’s, while the boy’s games are slated for Tuesday and Thursday.

Should any league game be postponed for any reason, these games will take precedence over non-league games when it comes to being rescheduled. League games can’t be shoved back or put off, according to Meeks.

The Blue Devil head man praised the new system.

“All of this well thought about by Mick Price and I give a lot of credit to him and all the athletic directors,” he said.

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