Magnolia's Mark Winters is a big reason why the Class A state tournament will be as exciting as any this week.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- By definition, the 100th state tournament figures to be a memorable joyride at the Civic Center this week, but the division that could provide the most intrigue, surprisingly, is the Class A event.
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Mark Winters of Magnolia, the leading scorer in West Virginia and a prime player of the year candidate, will be on hand with his 28.3 scoring average. Recently, he became just the 20th player in state history to surpass 2,000 career points.
Not one, but two defending state champions grace the Class A field - Charleston Catholic and Tug Valley. Tug won the AA title last year before dropping down a class and enters the tournament as the top seed in single-A.
The return of one of the state's storied coaches, Dave Barksdale, now an assistant to Dan Burd at Greater Beckley Christian. In 17 seasons at Woodrow Wilson, Barksdale carved out a 335-93 record, 11 state tourney trips and five AAA championships.
In essence, the Class A state tournament field could be summed up by an old wedding tradition:
Something old - Charleston Catholic and Wheeling Central have combined for 10 of the last 13 single-A titles; Tucker County competes in its 12th straight state tournament;
Something new - GBC appears in just its second-ever state tourney and the first since 2007; Notre Dame, an infrequent visitor to the Civic Center, hasn't won a state tournament game since 1989;
Something borrowed - Well, Tug Valley was confiscated from AA;
Something blue - Both Magnolia and Buffalo sport blue and gold uniforms.
Here's a team-by-team breakdown of the Class A field, which holds its quarterfinals on Wednesday (see tournament schedule, Page 2B):
1. Tug Valley (22-3) - The Panthers have taken on all-comers this season, and usually dominated. They've swept three from Greater Beckley, trounced Charleston Catholic, split with AA power Westside and beat three AAA regional teams - Huntington, Riverside and Logan. Their last loss (13 games ago) was to AAA Greenbrier East on a half-court shot at the buzzer.
2. Magnolia (21-4) - The Blue Eagles feature more than just Winters - Zach Willhoite averages 15 points, Preston Boswell 14 and Stephen Rogalski 11. Magnolia lost to only two West Virginia teams - taking two of three from Clay-Battelle and splitting with Linsly, a private school in Wheeling.
3. Charleston Catholic (22-3) - Jitters shouldn't bother the Irish, who have qualified for the state tournament nine straight times. Their tournament record the previous eight seasons is a sparkling 18-5, with seven trips to the finals. Catholic's record against state-ranked teams this season is 6-3, with losses to Tug, Tucker and AA Poca.
4. Tucker County (20-3) - Played a decent schedule, dotted with seven games against teams from higher classifications (four AAA, three AAA). But the Mountain Lions' only game against a team that ended the season state-ranked was a 53-50 home win over Charleston Catholic on Feb. 8 as Nathaniel Goldstein hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
5. Greater Beckley Christian (19-5) - Lots of questions about the Crusaders' schedule, which included a sprinkling of blockbuster games against Tug Valley (thrice) and Magnolia but also at least a dozen games against outmatched opponents. No question, though, about the talent of players such as Keith Mullins (19.1 ppg) and Javonne Staunton-Bailey (18.1).
6. Buffalo (21-4) - The Bison hasn't made it this far since 2008, and pulled off the feat with an unconventional squad. Buffalo's tallest player is 6-1, so it utilizes speed and shooting ability. The Bison force 20 turnovers per game and average more than 12 steals with full-court pressure. Marksmen Laythen Good (78) and Levi Jordan (64) own 85 percent of the team's 3-point goals.
7. Wheeling Central (13-12) - The Maroon Knights, below .500 much of the season, come in having won five of their last six games, upsetting St. Marys in the regionals. The Maroon Knights lean on youngsters, being led in scoring by freshman Chase Harler and junior David Park.
8. Notre Dame (14-8) - The Irish may also have arrived at the big show a year ahead of schedule, as their top three scorers are all juniors - 6-4 Cal Cistaro (19 points, 11 rebounds), Justin Goff (13 ppg) and Kolby Abruzzino (12 ppg). ND played 10 teams in the final rankings, but went 3-7 in those games.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.