CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston Catholic tennis championships have become a rite of spring over much of the past decade.
The Fighting Irish boys have won state Class AA-A titles in eight of the last nine years, including the last seven. The girls have caught up, winning the last five.
The Irish begin their quest for another double title in the Region 4 tournament at Parkersburg City Park. First serve is 4 p.m. Thursday for a regional that may go into Friday.
The region includes Poca, whose girls finished a point behind state runner-up Wheeling Central at last year's state tournament, and Parkersburg Catholic, whose girls were showing signs of a breakthrough season. But the Crusaders are playing without No. 1 singles runner-up Ariel Shulman, who has moved to a tennis academy in Florida.
The Dots have hit their own pothole - OK, make that a sinkhole. Crater, even.
Citing a rule that Charleston Catholic's girls had not played enough matches within the region, regional director Jay Carter - also a tennis rules interpreter - declared that the Irish players would not be included among the four seeds in each position.
That meant anybody, regardless of seeding status, could face an Irish player in any round. For instance, the top seed in the No. 1 singles position could face Catholic's Claire Hamilton, with the winner going to next week's state tournament and the loser staying home.
Poca's Molly Ballard drew that short straw.
The senior would have been the top seed based on her regional record of 13-0. She missed the Catholic match (wisdom teeth), so there was no head-to-head with Hamilton.
But Hamilton, the overwhelming No. 2 singles champ last year, would have been the second seed, in all likelihood. They likely would meet in the finals, not the quarters, and both would have gone on to the state tournament.
"It's just a shame," said Poca coach Kim Sigman. "It's like Serena Williams and Venus Williams are playing in the first round."
That's not all.
Senior Courtney Mobley, Poca's No. 2, faces a similar early impediment in Catholic's Christina Centofanti. And then the No. 1 doubles team of Ballard and Mobley will get an early look at Catholic's top doubles team, Hamilton and Danielle Sadd.
Poca scored six points in last year's state tournament, and faces a real possibility of having six wiped out with the regional draw.
"It's unfortunate for the rest of the field," said Catholic coach David Sadd. "It compromises the integrity of the draw."