CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Capital danced all the way to the state tournament last year, wearing Cinderella's slipper, while perennial contenders Charleston Catholic and George Washington missed the ball.
The Cougars pulled off one of the unlikeliest end-of-season runs to the Civic Center in recent memory, becoming the only state qualifier from the Kanawha Valley after upsetting defending state champion Greenbrier East on the Spartans home floor in the Class AAA co-regionals. The clock struck midnight, though, on Capital in the state quarterfinals.
The Cougars will be starting from scratch with seven of their top nine players gone when the season opens Tuesday around the state. High school girls basketball teams may begin playing games next week, but most in the Kanawha Valley open later.
Only two players who saw any significant playing time last year return for Capital (9-14) in 5-foot-11 post player Dashia Foster and 5-6 guard India Hairston, both juniors.
Foster had double figures in points and rebounds in almost half of Capital's games. Jayna Hurst, a 5-11 sophomore who skipped basketball last season to focus on volleyball, will give the Cougars added post presence.
Hairston will be expected to pick up some of the slack on offense after Capital graduated its top two scorers. The lone senior is Jahneece Clements, a 5-5 forward who is in only her second year of high school ball.
It might be rough early for the Patriots, who have a few holes to fill with the graduation of three starters, including last year's leading point producer. In addition, GW senior Kelli Jo Harrison, an all-state third-team selection who has signed with Fairmont State after averaging 17.1 points and 9.5 rebounds last year, suffered a knee injury this summer and isn't expected back until late December or early January. Harrison has already topped 1,000 career points.
Juniors Alanna Mobayed, a three-year starter at point guard, Hailey Stewart, who saw a lot of varsity time at shooting guard last season, Maria Romeo and Lilly Ash and sophomore Elishia Davis will hold down the fort until Harrison arrives.
Olivia Miller, a 5-11 junior, sophomore Jessica Lowen and 6-3 freshman Shionna Banks will round out the lineup, getting playing time whenever the matchups dictate.
"There were a lot of question marks,'' said GW coach Jamie LaMaster. "I'm very pleased with [our players'] commitment and attitude. I have to run them out of the gym. The chemistry seems to be exceptionally well. I think we have a chance to have a great year. They're giving me a good feeling.''
The Fighting Irish, who fell at Williamstown by 25 points in the Class A regional co-final, return a mostly young squad but do have two seniors in guards Anna Whelan, who averaged 11.6 points, and Hannah Gallian. Two of the younger players - sophomores Caroline Dundervill and Payton Mullen - are known for their speed on the soccer pitch and should fit right in with Bogan's fast-paced style.
Here's a quick glance - in alphabetical order with records in parentheses - at how the rest of the teams in Kanawha and Putnam counties are shaping up: