CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The preparations are complete as coaches hope their teams have been challenged sufficiently in anticipation of this week's sectional tournaments, which kick into high gear across the state.
A few sectionals opened Friday and Saturday, while the Kanawha Valley teams begin play today. Losses now send teams packing for the season until they reach the sectional title games, where both teams move on to regional play. (See Page 2B for sectional tournament pairings.)
George Washington coach Jamie LaMaster is one of those who is eager to see if the rugged schedule will translate into another late-season run. The Patriots have dropped their last three games, losing to Cabell Midland, which has been ranked most of the season until falling out last week, No. 1 and defending state champion Parkersburg South, and No. 3 Spring Valley, which was in Saturday's championship game of the Mountain State Athletic Conference Night of Champions.
"I think that helps," said LaMaster, who guided GW to back-to-back Class AAA state tournament semifinal appearances in 2011 and 2012. "You want to be challenged coming into sectionals. It's tough, but the name of the game is to get better.''
GW hosts Capital on Wednesday in Class AAA Region 3 Section 1, while No. 7 South Charleston hosts the winner of today's Ripley-Riverside game.
The Patriots have had a trying season, playing without returning senior top scorer Kelli Jo Harrison for most of the season because of knee surgery. Harrison returned for the final 13 regular-season games and is nearly averaging 10 points per game, but her leadership will be even more valuable.
SC is also banking on the regular season to toughen up a young group that features three freshmen in the starting lineup. They've impressed so far with wins over No. 10 Logan, No. 8 St. Albans, No. 6 Huntington and Midland. Freshman point guard Aaliyah Dunham is the Black Eagles' top scorer and dropped 33 points, including six 3-pointers, in Saturday's consolation game of the MSAC Night of Champions.
Here's a quick glance at sectional tournaments featuring Kanawha Valley teams: