WHEELING - The road to Ohio Valley Athletic Conference boys' basketball championships has been paved, and it's guaranteed that two new champions will emerge next week on the campus of Ohio University Eastern. That's because defending Class AA champion Bridgeport, which moved up a class, did not qualify, as was the case for Class AA Shadyside.
However, Wheeling Park is attempting to become three-time Class AAAA champions, while Weir High is looking to go back-to-back in AAA.
In addition to Shadyside and Bridgeport, there are other familiar names missing. Teams like Bellaire, Martins Ferry, Wheeling Central and Linsly, are all on the outside looking in this season.
Here's a breakdown of the championship brackets:
No. 4 East Liverpool
at No. 1 Wheeling Park
No. 3 John Marshall
at No. 2 Indian Creek
There's some recent pedigree here. Coach Michael Jebbia's Patriots (13-2) have been the class of this division lately, knocking off John Marshall (11-5) in the final each of the last two seasons. In fact, the Monarchs have been runner-up the last three seasons, falling to Indian Creek (14-3) in the 2007 title game.
East Liverpool is generally regarded as one of the premier teams in the conference.
Prediction: Wheeling Park beats Indian Creek for the title.
No. 4 Union Local
at No. 1 St. Clairsville
No. 3 Magnolia at No. 2 Weir
These teams certainly know each other well. Union Local (11-6), which beat Buckeye Local just before the cutoff to leapfrog Bellaire into the No. 4 spot, has played St. Clairsville (15-1) twice this season and lost both times. The Jets are seeking their first crown since 2008.
The Blue Eagles (12-6), who knocked off Wheeling Central in double overtime Tuesday night to land the No. 3 spot, and Weir (12-3) are sectional rivals and are scheduled to meet Saturday in New Martinsville.
Prediction: Weir beats St. Clairsville for the title.
No. 4 River at
No. 1 Monroe Central
No. 3 Barnesville
at No. 2 Fort Frye
There is some new blood here as the top-seeded Seminoles (13-4) have somehow flown under the radar most of the season among area fans. The same could probably be said of Barnesville (11-6), which like Monroe Central has three or four players that can beat an opponent on a given night.
A lot was expected of Coach Mark Romick's Pilots (12-6) this season, and quite obviously they've delivered. The wildcard could be Fort Frye (14-3), which was a No. 1 seed in 2009.
Prediction: Fort Frye beats River for the title.
No. 4 Beallsville
at No. 1 Trinity
No. 3 Bishop Donahue
at No. 2 Madonna
The Bishops (15-3) are one season removed from being champions, but have a tall task ahead against a Madonna team that features a tall, physical front line. The Blue Dons beat Donahue last week on the road.
Trinity (17-1) is considered by many to be the team to beat in the West Virginia Class A ranks, and probably has a little too much firepower for Beallsville.
Prediction: Trinity beats Madonna for the title.