CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ready or not, the state high school soccer tournament is in town.
Sixteen teams will descend on Schoenbaum Soccer Stadium in Coonskin Park and the new Trace Fork Complex in South Charleston today seeking championships in Class AAA and AA-A boys and girls divisions.
Three-time defending champion Charleston Catholic (21-0-2) will kick off the tourney against Bridgeport (16-4-2) in the AA-A boys semifinals at 9:30 a.m. at Trace Fork.
When Hurricane Sandy blew through West Virginia last week, the superstorm also blew up the state tournament. The Secondary School Activities Commission postponed the event, which was set for last weekend, after much of the state was inundated with rain and snow.
Then the SSAC moved the tournament from the YMCA Youth Sports Complex's grass fields in Beckley to Charleston's turf fields at Schoenbaum and Trace Fork after it was decided the fields couldn't be ready in time. The state-bound teams haven't played a match since regional tournaments were contested Oct. 23 and Oct. 25.
Catholic is chasing history, hoping to become just the second school to win four straight titles. Wheeling Park did so from 1998-2001 in the girls division under the one-class system. The state tournament split into AAA and AA-A in 2007.
"I think every team if they can't look at themselves and say, 'We're a better team than we were in August,' probably wouldn't be here,'' said Catholic second-year coach Sam Fox, whose teams also owns a 53-match unbeaten streak.
The other defending state champions are George Washington (AAA boys) and nationally ranked Morgantown (AAA girls). The AA-A girls field is wide open after defending champ Grafton and top-ranked Sissonville failed to advance in regional play.
All 16 teams in the boys and girls fields finished the regular season in the state coaches association rankings. Three of the four No. 1 teams made it - Hurricane (AAA boys), Catholic (AA-A boys) and Morgantown (AAA girls) - while those three squads are also still undefeated.
If you're looking for upstarts, try the AAA No. 16 Hedgesville boys, who upset No. 6 Martinsburg in sectional play and No. 10 Washington, last year's state runner-up, in regionals. Also, the AA-A No. 11 Bluefield boys advanced to states for the first time.
The Kanawha Valley has six entrants, including four in the AAA boys and girls field.
The GW boys, who finished fifth in the final state coaches association rankings, are looking to add to their recent championship haul after picking up a second title last year to go with the first one in 2007. The Patriots captured their sectional and regional with tense 1-0 victories, including a penalty-kick shootout.
The No. 6 GW girls are in the AAA semis for the ninth time but are still seeking their first championship. The Patriots have a tall order in taking on Morgantown (22-0-1) in the state semifinals, but GW is 2-0 so far in revenge games this postseason. The Mohigans shut out the Patriots 3-0 in the regular-season finale.
Top-ranked Hurricane (21-0-1) is making its fourth appearance in AAA boys in six years, but doesn't have any hardware to show for its efforts except a runner-up trophy. The Redskins lost to GW 1-0 in the 2007 title game, dropped a 2-1 decision on penalty kicks to Wheeling Park in the 2010 semifinals and fell to the Patriots 1-0 in last year's semis.
"I don't think there's anybody in it that can't win this thing,'' said Hurricane coach Jim Dagostine. "We're looking at it like we're a good team and we can certainly get it done if we can play well enough.''
No. 3 Winfield has lost heartbreakers the past two years in AAA girls. The Generals lost 1-0 on penalty kicks to Morgantown in last year's title game and fell 1-0 to eventual state champion University two years ago in the semis on a last-second goal. Winfield may have some karma on its side this year after edging Huntington 1-0 in overtime of the regionals.
The No. 4 Catholic girls are back in AA-A after a one-year hiatus. The Irish enter states with plenty of momentum after knocking off No. 1 Sissonville 2-1 in a penalty-kick shootout in regionals. Last year Catholic was knocked out in the sectionals after winning the previous three titles.
Some of the state's top players will be spotlighted.
Hurricane senior Felipe Thompson, a foreign-exchange student from Chile, has scored a Kanawha Valley-best 46 goals, Charleston Catholic senior Sam Revercomb has netted 34 goals and George Washington junior Garrett Phillips paces all state keepers with 14 shutouts. On the girls side, PikeView senior Laura Hill has 59 goals, which is an unofficial single-season state record.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkin...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.
Class AAA girls
at Schoenbaum Stadium, Coonskin Park