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Space needed on Charleston Catholic trophy shelves

Chris Dorst
Charleston Catholic's Mitchel Thorsteinson carries the team trophy after the Irish won the state soccer title last fall.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Gazette Excellence in Sports Award has found a home in Class A.

Charleston Catholic won its fifth straight GEISA, which signifies West Virginia's top overall high school athletic sports programs in the classification. The Fighting Irish captured their ninth award in the 17 years the newspaper has compiled the rankings, the most titles in any of the state's three classes.

The standings, compiled by the Gazette since the 1996-97 school year, are based on a system that awards points (8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1) to the top eight finishers in each of the 19 sports sanctioned by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.

Catholic displays its GEISA awards and trophy at the school's athletic facility on Hillcrest Drive.

"We're out of room,'' said Catholic athletic director and golf coach Bill Gillispie, who keeps a running tally of the GEISA points throughout the year to gauge the school's progress. "We're going to have to build more shelves.

"We absolutely do not take [winning the GEISA] for granted. I think it's just a determination to work hard. The guys and girls before have set the standard pretty high. It's something the middle school is aware of. Success breeds success.''

Catholic once again more than doubled the point total of any other Class A school except runner-up Williamstown. The Irish outpointed the Yellowjackets 64-47 in claiming their award.

The Irish scored in 11 sports, winning the most state titles in any class with five (baseball, golf, boys soccer and boys and girls tennis) and had a runner-up finish in boys basketball. The girls soccer team, which sported five freshman starters, advanced to the state tournament.

Catholic's boys teams carried much of the load, accounting for 461/2 points, which was also tops in Class A, and scored in eight of the 10 sports. The girls teams netted 171/2 points, which was still good enough to rank third best in Class A, and tallied in three of the nine sports. (See chart, Page 5B.)

 "What we try to do is have a good program,'' Gillispie said. " It's about having good programs instead of having a good team here and there.

"Because of the good coaching and the quality of kids you're able to maintain a certain level of being competitive. It's just the idea the kids are buying into a successful program and our coaches continue to keep them focused and working hard.''

Catholic bookended the 2012-13 school year with state titles, winning the first championship contested in golf, then closing out with the year's last state competition, baseball, a title the Irish won for the first time after advancing to states eight of the past 12 years.

"It's always good to get the year off on the right track,'' said Gillispie. "That one's special because I do it.''

The Irish have dominated several sports in recent years, capturing their eighth straight state championship in boys tennis, sixth in a row in girls tennis, fourth consecutive in boys soccer and second straight in golf, which has also won four in the last six years.

"Year in and year out you've got a good group of kids that come through that really have devoted themselves to a sport or two and over time become pretty good at it,'' said Sam Fox, who guided the Irish to back-to-back boys soccer titles.

"I think you saw that with this year's baseball team as well as the soccer team. Those seniors have been playing together ever since they were in third and fourth grade. That's been very beneficial to the kids who have come up through the Catholic system. I think it's because the kids have played together for such a long time.''

Gillispie said there are several other factors for the Irish's success that are immeasurable.

"It doesn't hurt having [baseball coach] Bill Mehle, [boys basketball coach] Bill McClanahan and [boys and girls cross county and track coach] Scott Welch, guys who have been here a long time leading those programs,'' said the Catholic AD.

"They have almost 40 years combined in the same sport. The support of the school and principal [Debra Sullivan], those things are keys. The school has high expectations in the classroom and that boils right over to the athletic programs.''

Catholic will receive a permanent plaque signifying its achievement as well as custody for a year of a traveling trophy.

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

 


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