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Crowded at the top in Class A

Chip Ellis
Tyler Consolidated's Kerstyn Cline (5) and Bridget Matthews (16) go up for the block against Roane County's Katie Mace (20).

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On the opening night of high school competition at the Charleston Civic Center Volleyball Showcase, a pair of Class A powers and one trying to rejoin those ranks were on display.

Both defending state champion Williamstown and runner-up Tyler Consolidated were back at the Civic Center on Tuesday evening and facing some new challenges.

The Knights defeated Roane County 25-18 and 25-10 in an early match but were defeated 25-17 and 25-20 by Buffalo in their second.

Speaking of the Bison, last season ended a three-year run of consecutive state tournament appearances.

Buffalo has limped out of the gates a bit this season standing at 8-12-3 after beating Tyler and losing to Roane County 25-16 and 25-22 on Tuesday. But sophomore setter Rachel Martin, who is coming off of a fantastic freshman season, played for the first time all season after dealing with heart issues.

Coach Brian Null, in his 14th year with the program, said a healthy Martin should change the complexion of his entire squad.

"It's kind of held us down a lot not having her, we've had to change everything we do," Null said. "We give a lot of credit to our JV setter, Kayla Willbond - she stepped in and allowed everyone else to stay in their positions. Now we're able to plug Rachel back in and no one else has to change."

Buffalo has already faced Williamstown twice this season, falling once in three sets and once in four.

While the Yellowjackets have rolled out of the gate to a solid 10-4 mark after besting Princeton 25-16 and 26-24 and losing to Robert C. Byrd 25-23, 22-25, and 25-19, Williamstown is facing a few issues of its own, primarily inexperience.

Just one senior is on the roster after the Yellowjackets lost seven from last year's championship team. In fact, only juniors Ashton Chancellor and Erica Amos have significant varsity experience and as many as four freshman share the floor at one time for Williamstown.

Still, third-year coach Rachelle Cole said her team has played well so far.

"We're young, we're inexperienced, but we've won some games already we probably shouldn't have or people didn't expect us to win," Cole said. "They work hard, they're young, they're scrappy - we're just kind of going day by day right now."

Wirt County missed its first state tournament since 2003 last season and isn't expected to be down long, and Charleston Catholic followed back-to-back state titles in 2009 and 2010 with another tournament appearance in 2011 before missing last season.

Needless to say, the top is crowded with contenders in Class A.

That fact makes the Showcase a highly anticipated event for volleyball coaches as teams get a chance to look at and even play contenders in different classes from different parts of the state.

"I like coming here because we usually play teams we don't see other times," Cole said. "We play Tyler, we play Ritchie [County], so it's kind of nice to watch them play, but then play teams we might not normally get to see.

"And then just in case we make it at the end, we've been here. Obviously that would be huge for us with such a young group."

Null uses this week's stage to test his squad. 

"When we're all healthy we [have a chance]," Null said. "We requested Tyler, we knew they were going to have a good program and we saw it as a good opportunity. We generally try to play a AA or AAA team while we're up here too, so playing Roane [County] out of the [Little Kanawha Conference], all of those LKC teams are usually pretty good so that's helpful."

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.

 


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