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Girls take over the Civic Center

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One champion is chasing history while another is looking to build on its recent success.

St. Joseph, the four-time defending state champion in Class A, will be seeking a record-tying fifth straight title while Westside, the reigning AA state titlist, hopes to make it two in a row and avoid the one-year-wonder tag when the curtain is raised today on the 37th annual girls high school basketball state tournament.

The tourney tips off today with No. 3 St. Marys (23-1) facing No. 6 Tygarts Valley (17-7) at 9:30 a.m. in the Class A quarterfinals.

The AAA field is wide open after No. 1, undefeated and defending state champion Greenbrier East was upset in the regional co-finals.

That came at the hands of a plucky Capital squad (10-13), which is making its first appearance at states since 2002 when Alexis Hornbuckle and Renee Montgomery were leading the Cougars to their second of back-to-back state titles.

Capital, the only tournament participant with a losing record among the three classes, is also carrying the banner for the Kanawha Valley, which hasn't had a champion in six years.

The Cougars, seeded eighth, have a tall order in front of them, facing No. 1 Spring Valley at 7:15 p.m. today in the AAA quarterfinals. The Timberwolves handed Capital a 30-point loss (70-40) during the regular season.

Another Cinderella story is Valley (13-7), which last made it to Charleston in 1991. The No. 7 Greyhounds (13-7) take on perennial power and No. 2 Wheeling Central at 1 p.m. today in the Class A quarterfinals.

The rest of the AAA field tips off Thursday along with all of Class AA. The championship games are Saturday with Class A at noon, AA at 2:30 p.m. and AAA at 7:15 p.m.

Spring Valley, which had two of its losses the first two games of the season, earned the top seed in the AAA field after East's fall and is making its first trip to Charleston since 2003.

In AA, Westside won its first title last year and seems primed for another run with the same cast. Bridgeport has some unfinished business after earning the top seed in the AAA tourney last year then losing to Greenbrier East in the title game. Clay is also on a mission after falling to Westside in last year's semifinals. North Marion, which won three titles in a row in AAA from 2009-11, is back after getting tripped up in regionals last year.

St. Joseph (22-1) hasn't lost to an in-state team since the 2008 title game and looks to keep that going to tie Summers County's streak of five titles in a row from 2007-11. St. Marys (23-1), which is the only other one-loss team besides St. Joe in the Class A field, has finished runner-up two of the last three years while Central fell in last year's title round.

Some of the top players to watch in AAA include Spring Valley sophomore Mackenzie Morris, who is fifth in the Mountain State Athletic Conference in scoring at 18.1 points per game; Logan 5-foot-11 sophomore guard Shayna Gore, who averages 17.3 points and is on the ESPN HoopGurlz Top 100 Watch List for the Class of 2015; Princeton senior guard McKenzie Akers, a Marshall recruit who leads the MSAC in scoring at 25.2 points per game; and Parkersburg South's guard tandem of sophomore Keya Bartlett (19.3) and freshman Taryn McCutcheon (17.3).

In AA, Westside 6-0 sophomore center Hope Lester averages a team-high 18.0 points, Bridgeport senior Miki Glenn is one of the top point guards and Clay's Brittany Gould is one of the more explosive scorers at 21.2 points per game.

Valley senior guard Alexis Payne averages 25.2 points behind a variety of slashing moves to the basket while St. Joe junior guards Mychal Johnson and Griffin Dempsey have already surpassed 1,000 career points.

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


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