CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Cinderella's slipper fits Capital just fine.
The Cougars struggled to post a winning record this season, but a new season begins after they pulled off the biggest upset of the year in advancing to the state tournament for the first time in more than a decade.
Capital's postseason path took an unexpected turn Thursday when it defeated host No. 1, undefeated and defending state champion Greenbrier East 54-45 in the Class AAA Region 3 co-final.
The Cougars earned the eighth seed and will play No. 1 Spring Valley at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday in the state quarterfinals at the Charleston Civic Center.
Capital hasn't been back to states since Alexis Hornbuckle and Renee Montgomery led the school to the last of its back-to-back championships in 2002. Capital made it to several regionals in the subsequent years, but could never make it back. The Cougars have fallen on hard times since, posting their first winning record last year in quite some time. In the two years prior to that, they owned a 9-34 combined mark.
"If you told me my senior year I was going to be playing in the state tournament at the Civic Center, I would have told you, you were crazy,'' said Capital senior forward Katie Crowder. "It's going to be a great experience and a great way to end your high school career."
The Cougars (10-13) are the only school representing the Kanawha Valley in any of the three classes at the Charleston Civic Center this week, and is also the only team among the remaining 23 with a losing record.
"People have doubted us and we have come together,'' said senior forward Briana Harris. "I think that was a big part with our win [over Greenbrier East]. I think we pulled together because we're the underdogs.
"Our coaches encouraged us, telling us we can do this. We didn't believe in ourselves that we could, and having all those fans booing just built our confidence that we could win. The seniors, we have never been on the Civic Center floor and that was one of our big goals.''
Capital's tough Mountain State Athletic Conference schedule, which also included a regular-season matchup with Greenbrier East, challenged them night-in and night-out, but also steeled them for this moment.
The Cougars didn't start showing flashes until the last few weeks of the regular season. Late last month, Capital lost at No. 7 Princeton by 12 points (60-38), by 11 points to Greenbrier East and took No. 9 George Washington into overtime before falling by five points (68-63). Then in the sectional, the Cougars edged South Charleston 49-48 in the semifinals to avenge a loss a few days earlier, but stumbled against GW in the title game, losing 61-35.
"To be honest with you, we're disappointed with our overall record," said Capital coach B.J. Calabrese. "We look at five or six games that we felt we had legitimate chances to win.
"A couple of close ones that we let get away from us, but we've proven at times we can play with really good teams and that's what it's going to take when you get to the tournament, because everybody in there has a good quality team and program."
Calabrese said the players have earned this moment in the spotlight.
"With the strides we made last year, winning 14 games, we felt going into this year if we could keep everybody together and keep working, we had the potential to do this,'' he said. "We kept telling the kids that. I'm not sure a year ago the kids really believed us.
"I'm not sure early in the season that this group would have believed it. It's a reflection of the fact over the summer they worked a lot harder. We've gotten into some shootouts where we've played quality teams. We tried to scrimmage teams that were good, quality teams, and we played in a fall league. Once you have a little bit of success, it really builds your confidence and kids start to believe they really can do it.''
Crowder said everyone has contributed this year.
Senior guard Kahdijah Lee, who sat out two games early in the year for disciplinary reasons, averages a team-high 13.0 points while senior guard Keke Walker adds 10.9 and sophomore 6-foot post Dashia Foster, a transfer from Class A four-time defending state champion Huntington St. Joseph, contributes 8.0.