CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Repeat after me.
That's become the trend in West Virginia high school athletics - teams earning consecutive championships - repeats, three-peats and the like.
In the recently completed 2012-13 school year, the Secondary School Activities Commission handed out a total of 46 state titles in its 19 sports, and nearly half of those - 21 - were won by teams that also claimed the same championships the previous season.
Fourteen of the 19 SSAC sports produced at least one repeat champ (see chart) and in one sport, boys track, the title winners in all three classes were exactly the same as in 2011-12 - Jefferson (Class AAA), Ritchie County (AA) and Doddridge County (A).
Charleston Catholic leads the pack in repeat champions, as four different Irish squads own victory runs in either Class A or the combined AA-A division. Catholic has captured the last eight crowns in AA-A boys tennis, six straight in AA-A girls tennis, four in a row in AA-A boys soccer and back-to-back titles in single-A golf.
Making those streaks more impressive is that the Irish are not only vying with 40-some schools in Class A for three of those efforts, but 40 in Class AA as well.
"I never thought about that,'' said Catholic athletic director Bill Gillispie, "but that definitely makes it a little bit sweeter.
"We really don't see ourselves as any different competing with the bigger schools. In those particular sports - boys and girls tennis and boys soccer - we made a valiant effort to schedule the best teams in the state that we could find and have dates available to play. It causes a little more travel - our boys tennis team went to Louisville, Ky., to compete in the national high school tournament - and a little more travel definitely paid off in the end.''
Charleston Catholic owns three of the current top five championship streaks in the state. The others are St. Joseph (five straight Class A girls basketball) and Jefferson (four in a row AAA boys track).
"That's one thing we really try to talk to our coaches about - not just having a good team every two, three years.'' Gillispie said. "It's about sustaining a great program for a long time. That doesn't necessarily mean a state championship. A good example is Coach [Bill] Mehle in baseball. He's been able to sustain a very competitive single-A program right up there in the top two, three without winning a state championship until this year. We tell our coaches longevity works.
"Part of it is mixing good coaching with kids who play all year and really strive to do their best and play tennis at a high level in the summertime on the Junior USTA circuit. Part of it is that we've been fortunate to cycle through two, three good groups of young men and young women. Five or six of our boys in tennis play year-round and we're fortunate enough to use indoor tennis facilities we have here in Charleston. With tennis, you really compete in the summer and winter in the [high school] off-season.''
Title defenses catch a lot of people's attention when they come in a high-profile sport like football, especially at the Class AAA level in West Virginia.
There's been nothing but repeat champs in AAA football the last decade - Morgantown (2004-05), Parkersburg (2006-07) and South Charleston (2008-09) all went back-to-back before Martinsburg pulled a three-peat last December at Wheeling Island Stadium.
That's something no one had done in 42 years and only one other AAA school had ever accomplished since a separate AAA division began in 1958 (Charleston High won three in a row from 1968-70).
"It was just a combination of things,'' said Martinsburg coach Dave Walker. "You've got to have great players, but our kids really worked hard. I don't think there's any way you can take hard work out of the equation.
"Martinsburg's had a reputation for outstanding athletes over the years, but I don't think people realize the amount of time the kids put into it and how hard they work. And it's not just the athletes, but our grunts, too - the blue collar guys you don't read about.''
Talk to any of the Bulldogs' players during the recent championship express and to a man they'll stress how much their success means to the community back home in the Eastern Panhandle.
"Athletics is very important in Berkeley County,'' Walker said, "and Martinsburg, especially. I think our kids take a lot of pride in being successful and our community definitely supports it.
"I think our kids, when they were little, were standing there watching those teams 10 years ago having success and our tradition, our bar has been raised and the kids want to work hard and maintain that level of success. The kids bought into it.
"There's a fine line between being a runner-up and winning. Those teams [10 years ago] worked hard as well. Sometimes you've got to get - and I'm not a big believer in luck - but the ball has to bounce your way every once in a while.''
Martinsburg wasn't the only team to strike the pose worth repeating at Wheeling Island Stadium last season. Wayne became the first team to win back-to-back AA crowns since Poca swept three in a row (2001-03).
Over the last two school years, all but three of the SSAC's 19 sports have seen at least one repeat champion. And two of those exceptions - girls soccer (University AAA, Charleston AA-A) and boys cross country (Cabell Midland AAA, Grafton AA-A) - produced repeat champs three years ago in the 2010-11 school year.
Baseball, recently, has been the only real sport of parity, as you have to go all the way back to Wheeling Central's 2007-08 Class A run for even back-to-back crowns in any division.
Title defenses have become so standard that schools are even repeating their repeats. The last two school years, there have been 21 repeat titlists covering 14 different sports. In the 2010-11 school year, the numbers were 17 repeat champs in 12 sports.
Ironically, all these existing championship streaks don't include the sport of wrestling, which in recent years has shown the movement of an iceberg.
Before Huntington (AAA) and Greenbrier West (AA-A) ushered in a changing of the guard with their first SSAC titles last winter, Parkersburg South (AAA) had won four crowns in a row and Point Pleasant (then AA-A) three. Prior to that, Oak Glen dominated AA-A to the tune of 13 straight.
Eighteen teams have current championship streaks ranging from two to eight in a row - 10 of them involving Class A schools if you count Tug Valley's current status.
The Panthers took AA titles in boys basketball and cheerleading during the 2011-12 school year, and after their drop to Class A, repeated championships in those sports.
The future appears rosy for St. Joseph's girls basketball, which returns all five starters, including player of the year candidate Mychal Johnson, from the squad that stretched its title streak to five during the girls Class A state tournament last winter.
"We're loaded with seniors for this year,'' said coach Shannon Lewis, "and the group we have right now has been playing together since sixth grade. That's what makes this group here a little special - they've been running the same stuff since sixth grade. So we can add a little stuff here and there and they can work on their individual games and not worry so much about team stuff.
"A lot of our kids play AAU travel ball out of season and work on their game. They go to [personal coaches] to do that and get the team concept playing for their AAU coaches. We encourage them to do that. A few of the kids in our program played growing up in a system like that. They stay pretty busy in the offseason. A lot of kids dedicated to basketball may play another sport, but my really good players are all about basketball. It's not something I stress; it's just kind of worked out.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.
Current repeat champs (by streaks)
8 - Charleston Catholic (AA-A boys tennis)
6 - Charleston Catholic (AA-A girls tennis)
5 - St. Joseph (A girls basketball)
4 - Charleston Catholic (AA-A boys soccer), Jefferson (AAA boys track)
3 - Buffalo (A softball), Doddridge County (A boys track), George Washington (boys swimming), Huntington (AAA girls tennis), Martinsburg (AAA football), Philip Barbour (AA-A girls cross country), Williamstown (A girls track)
2 - Charleston Catholic (A golf), Morgantown (AAA girls cross country), Oak Glen (AA volleyball), Ritchie County (AA boys track), Tug Valley (AA/A cheerleading, AA/A boys basketball), Wayne (AA football, AA softball)
Sport-by-sport list of state champions the past two years