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Hoover closing in on winning season

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Herbert Hoover is quietly approaching a milestone.

The Huskies (10-6) are on pace to have their first winning season since 1996. They came close last season, finishing with a 12-13 mark after losing to Scott in their first regional appearance since the early 1990s.

"I thought we had a pretty good group coming in,'' said Huskies fifth-year coach Greg Ullman, who lost four starters to graduation. "Probably the biggest thing, we forget eight of our top 10 in our rotation are ninth and 10th graders. We're very, very young. They've done a really good job. They've really come along well.

"I definitely think there's bigger and better things. We're at a point now where we expect to win. We're not a scheduled win anymore. It's all the kids. They've worked really hard. They've done everything I've asked them to. I don't think they're happy at all. They're talking they want to do more. They want to be a threat to get to the state tournament.''

And for the Huskies, it has truly been a team effort with no player averaging double figures and six different players scoring in double digits in their 16 games. Senior Jordan Marshall is the top scorer at 8.8 points, followed by Caroline Thornburg (7.9) and Bailey Aab (7.6). Marshall and Makayla Shamblin are the only two seniors on the squad.

"That's kind of a two-edged sword,'' Ullman said. "It's good that [opponents] don't know who to guard, but it's bad that you don't know who to go to. I guess our go-to person is whoever has a good game that night. Every night we go to a game, we don't know who it's going to be.''

Hoover's 1996 squad finished 11-10 and was coached by Jeff Holliday. Some of the Huskies' top players included Cary Friel, Missy Anderson, Lori Grindstaff, Jenny Blackwell and Jennifer Kee. Missy Anderson is now Missy Smith, who coaches softball at Hoover and volleyball at George Washington, where she has won three AAA state titles.

"We've got an opportunity,'' Ullman said. "Nothing's a given at all. I thought this was going to be our best shooting team, but we're not. I'm somewhat encouraged by that because we're winning games. I'm kind of hopeful if we hit a stretch where we all click at the same time, we could be a dangerous team.''

Competitive balance

St. Albans has been competitive this season with the top teams in the state, but the Red Dragons are still lacking that one ingredient to put them over the top.

SA led Class AAA No. 1 Greenbrier East 20-18 in the opening half of Thursday's Big Atlantic Classic matchup before succumbing to a 65-39 loss. The Red Dragons (8-9) have gone toe-to-toe with Huntington (55-42), George Washington (37-25) and Princeton (52-49) in losses this season.

"What it's going to take is consistency,'' said coach Scott James after Thursday's loss. "Following coach's game plan. We started out well [against Greenbrier East]. We played with them for really about a quarter and a half.

"We were down 18-11 and came back and took the lead 20-18, then they went on a 14-2 run to end the half and we're down by 10. We come out and don't run the offense in the second half. Too many turnovers led to easy baskets.''

James said he is excited about what this group can accomplish. Red Dragons sophomore forward Breanna Propst is the fifth-leading scorer in the Mountain State Athletic Conference. Others have shown flashes, with double-digit outbursts from junior guard Kaitlynn Propst, freshman guard Tori Wilson and sophomore Addison Oliver.

"When these girls put four quarters together, they'll compete with anybody they play,'' he said. "It's something we're continuing to work on.

"I'm excited about the opportunity when they do. I look out there at times and we have three freshmen on the floor. We've played really well at times, but we've go to put four quarters together.''

Guts and guile

Greenbrier East has struggled at times this season after two starters from last year's AAA state championship squad decided not to return.

The Spartans (13-0), though, have persevered and find themselves undefeated and No. 1 in the Associated Press poll.

"These kids found a way,'' said East coach Jim Justice, who is also The Greenbrier resort owner. "That's all there is to it. The first day I came to practice I said, 'My gosh, we may not win five or six games.' These kids have dug in and they've been just determined.

"Now, are we going to go undefeated? I absolutely do not think that at all. Can we make a run? These kids have got a lot of effort, a lot of grit and a lot of passion. It's amazing, flat amazing, for these kids to be the No. 1 team in the state four weeks in a row. It's a real tribute to them.''

Crystal ball gazing

The picture for the Mountain State Athletic Conference Night of Champions is starting to come into focus.

George Washington and Princeton are the only teams in the East Division without a loss, while Huntington and Spring Valley are unblemished in the West Division.

The Tigers visit the Patriots this week, while the Timberwolves host the Highlanders on Monday. The winners of those games will likely meet in the conference title game Feb. 16 at the South Charleston Community Center, while the losers will play in the second-place game.

Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkinson@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.


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