By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Bright lights, wide-open spaces and loud cheering sections.
Those factors make the Charleston Civic Center almost a different planet for southern West Virginia teams at the West Virginia High School Volleyball Tournament.
“We came out starry-eyed,” Greenbrier East coach Matt Sauvage said after his Spartans fell in four games to Parkersburg in a Class AAA quarterfinal. “It’s the big show.”
James Monroe, absent from Charleston for several years, also lost in four games to defending champion Oak Glen in a Class AA quarterfinal.
“They came out and looked a little scared. They’d never seen anything this big,” coach Renee Jesse said. “None of the girls had been here before.”
Nicholas County and Fayetteville, making their first-ever appearances at states, were each finished in just three games.
“It was a case of the nerves,” Nicholas coach Marie Shaffer said after the AA loss to Frankfort. “This wasn’t Nicholas County. I know we can play better than that.”
Yet another first-round team, PikeView, also lost in three to Ritchie County. But for the Panthers, it wasn’t so much the Civic Center atmosphere as it was a letdown after big sectional and regional victories.
“This wasn’t a good game for us,” coach Steve Compton said. “We peaked a little too soon.”
PikeView (24-19-1) played catch-up throughout the first two games, won 25-19, 225-15 by the Rebels.
Standout hitter Tristin Toman kept finding holes in the Panthers’ defense, despite spirited work at the net by Haleigh Compton and Alexis May.
“Ritchie is tough,” Compton said. “We weren’t putting enough pressure on them.”
The final game turned into a battle, however. The Panthers held 4-1, 7-3 and 11-7 leads, but Ritchie tied them at 15. From that point on, it was nip and tuck.
Ritchie finally took the lead at 21-20 and held on for a 25-22 win.
“Ritchie wouldn’t go away,” Compton said. “It got to the point where we had to play harder and take more chances than we normally would, and we came up short.
“You don’t get any free points from them. You have to earn everything you get.”
James Monroe fell 25-15 and 25-8 to Oak Glen, but came roaring back in the third game to win 25-16.
“We could have beaten them,” first-year coach Jesse said. “We played our game, and got them out of theirs in the third game. Molly Wickline and Carter Shiflet both had some good blocks.”
But the spark faded, and Oak Glen took the fourth of the best-of-five match 25-12.
“It was one of those games, I guess,” Jesse said. “But it was good to get here, especially our first year. We’ll lose seven seniors.”
Fayetteville (18-15-2) had a quick exit, falling 25-6, 25-14, 25-11 to Tyler Consolidated in a Class A semifinal.
The Pirates have just two seniors on their roster, setter Cassidy Bayes and outside hitter Jessica Brown.
Nicholas played Frankfort closer, 25-21, 25-18, 25-21, but the result was the same.
Blocker Nicole Hamilton, a 5-foot-11 senior, played well. The hitters, on the other hand, were off their marks.
“We can hit the volleyball much better than we did today. We didn’t swing like we can,” 16th-year coach Shaffer said. “Frankfort is a good team, but we can play with them.”
She noted that freshmen come to Nicholas County with little or no experience.
“We’re trying to take ninth-grade girls and make volleyball players out of them,” Shaffer said. “That’s hard to do when you don’t have a feeder system.
“Their nerves got to them because of their lack of experience.”
Greenbrier East (42-11-3) took three games to get temporarily on-track against perennial state power Parkersburg.
The Big Reds prevailed 25-13 and 25-16 before the Spartans rallied for a 25-19 win.
“We didn’t play good the first two games, although we had some streaks where we did,” Sauvage said. “The third game we played like we should and took care of business.”
Parkersburg took a four-point lead about midway through in the fourth game and made it stand up, 25-21.
East will lose four seniors to graduation — setters Laura Baker and Storrie Sherwood, libero Cassie Ford and outside hitter Haley Carey.
“I’m proud of the girls. We had a great season,” Sauvage said. “It’s a great group of girls, both on and off the court. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
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