CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For all that's been said of George Washington's volleyball team, what may get lost is the special place this squad has carved out in coach Missy Smith's heart.
Four years ago, an uncharacteristically large group of freshmen entered the Patriots program, and through the ups and downs a large majority of that group has stayed intact.
Now, in the team's final go-round, a group of nine seniors finds itself in prime position to finish what it started as freshmen on the state's biggest stage.
The Patriots will begin their pursuit of a Class AAA state crown as the high school volleyball tournament begins with the quarterfinals at 8:30 a.m. today at the Charleston Civic Center.
George Washington will take on Parkersburg South at 1:30 p.m., and semifinal matches in all three classes will be held at 6:30 p.m. The finals will be held Saturday beginning with the Class AA tilt at 10 a.m.
Smith hopes that Saturday will be a coronation for her girls.
"We've never had one big class like this," Smith said. "We've always been fairly balanced, but it's been a really fun last couple of years. Next year, I still anticipate us being successful, but [a state championship] would put an exclamation point on their whole career. We've been through adversity, but I've watched them work hard in the offseason and they've gotten better and better."
While her Patriots have improved, Smith admitted that so has the rest of the field.
"I think it will be the most competitive state tournament in quite a few years," Smith said. "I expect every team to be very competitive."
Even with eight solid teams in the Class AAA field, including defending state champion Spring Valley, not much should be a surprise to GW.
The Patriots enter today's state tournament with a record of 44-10-3, with 22 of those matches coming against Parkersburg, Spring Valley, Greenbrier East, Musselman, and Cabell Midland, all state qualifiers. GW is 12-9-1 in those matches and only Hedgesville and Parkersburg South will be potentially new opponents.
Also of note, four of the eight teams are from the Mountain State Athletic Conference.
"Other than Parkersburg South and Hedgesville, we've played everyone else at least twice," Smith said. "So I don't think there will have to be much scouting per se."
GW is led by Hannah Shreve, a WVU commit who has registered a .508 hitting percentage thus far, tops among state players from teams that send statistics into maxpreps.com, which includes state tournament teams Cabell Midland, Hedgesville, Parkersburg, Greenbrier East, Musselman and Herbert Hoover.
While GW has become pretty much a fixture in the Class AAA state tournament picture, Herbert Hoover, under second-year coach Anita King, has quietly strung back-to-back Class AA appearances together.
The Huskies have piled up a 37-4-1 record, with three of those losses coming to Class AAA foes GW, Musselman and Winfield.
Hoover returned most of its roster from last year, when the Huskies bowed out in the first round to eventual champion Oak Glen, which is also back this year to defend its crown.
While last year's appearance was a great achievement, King believes her squad may be poised to make even more noise this time around.