BECKLEY - When the West Virginia State Soccer Tournament begins at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the YMCA Soccer Complex, the Wheeling Park boys and the Weir boys' and girls' squads will be entering the frey with chips on their shoulders.
Each team has made the trip to Beckley on a regular basis, but none have brought their respective trophies back on the bus with them.
Wheeling Park has been the most dominant team in the OVAC for the past four years, making it look almost easy. The Patriots' success against the rest of the state's best teams has also been well-documented.
Wheeling Park’s Eric Bonar and the Patriots will face Washington
Photo by Josh Strope
Coach Mario Julian's squad will be be making its third trip in the last four seasons. The previous two occasions have ended the same way for Wheeling Park - the Patriots entered the tournament undefeated, advanced to the title game, and lost.
Will this be a case a deja vu or is the third time the charm?
''This is a much different team,'' Wheeling Park coach Mario Julian said. ''They are very team-oriented first and they set goals from the very beginning to be undefeated, to outperform last year's team. From the very beginning, I don't think this team has gotten the respect that I saw in practices and other coaches have seen in practice.
''(Last year) we had guys like Josh Henderson, A.J. Railing, Kohlby Jebbia, Rob Condrad and all those starters left but these guys have quietly gone about their business. They aren't arrogant, they don't brag about it, they just go out and try to get the results.''
Wheeling Park (19-0-3) starts the Class AAA portion of the tournament at 10 a.m. Friday on Cline Field against Washington. George Washington and Hurricane play 30 minutes later.
Wheeling Park defeated Washington, 4-3, in a match earlier this season at Wheeling Island Stadium.
''They have a really explosive player, Kris Robins, and he has been their best player for the last couple years,'' Julian said. ''He can play either striker or center-mid. If he's a striker, in my opinion, that means they feel they are getting control of the center of the field. He is so dangerous with his shot and his passing ability. If they feel the matchup isn't favorable, they will bring him back to center-mid and he has the skills and ability to play with Errin (Baynes) and play with Mike (Mauck) and try to neutralize them.
''If they can do that, they still have a couple nice strikers they can put up there, quick, fast guys and both scored against us last time. They have a nice mix of speed and possession and that is how they are going to come at us.''
Wheeling Park has done a good job on defense this season, led by captain Mike Zandron. Nate Mauck, Grant Robertson and Eric Davis (18 assists) join him in the backfield. They have made life easy for goalie Cameron Allen, who has 14 shutouts this season. The Patriots have allowed just 17 goals in 22 games.
Everything for the Patriots goes through Baynes, though. A first-team all-state and All-Valley selection in his junior season, Baynes has taken his game up a notch with 17 goals and 15 assists, making him dangerous when he has the ball, whether it be shooting or distributing.
Joining Baynes in the midfield is leading scorer Mike Mauck with 21 goals. The senior sprained his ankle in the regional championship victory against Preston but has been practicing and Julian feels will be 100 percent Friday.
Eric Bonar (10 goals) and Josh Garrett work the outside mids.
Up front is Kyle George (19 goals) and Alex Bauer (12 assists, nine goals).
Mike Mauck, Baynes, and Zandron are the only starters returning from last season's team, leading many to believe that Wheeling Park was in for a rebuilding season. That was a notion Julian quickly dispelled during the summer when he saw just how talented they were.
''I'm surprised that people don't think they are as good as they are,'' he said. ''I saw it in June when were practicing for those three weeks. We are faster than last year. I didn't know if we would score as many goals to make up for Josh Henderson's 38, but more guys are scoring. It doesn't matter who scores and that means the same. These guys work very hard. This team's focus is on a championship.
''I look at Errin, I look at Michael Mauck and Mike Zandron. Josh Garrett and Alex Bauer. I don't see anyone as fast as those guys. As far as that many. Those teams have guys that are just as fast, but do they have that many? I don't know. I practice with mine every day so I know what kind of speed we have.''
Veteran coach Joe Pepe has taken the Red Riders to the Class AA/A tournament the past four seasons, just like two of the other teams in the field - Charleston Catholic and Berkeley Springs.
The difference between the three is that Weir is the only one that doesn't have a championship trophy.
''This is the fourth year we've been down there and guys like Josh Barney and Lucas Dankovchik, they know what it's like,'' Pepe said. ''This team is very excited and they want to bring that trophy back.''
Berkeley Springs will be the opponent for Weir in the semifinals (4 p.m., Friday, Carter Field). Undefeated and two-time defending state champion Charleston Catholic will oppose Oak Hill in the other match.
''I know they have another Wise kid (Zach) that is their leading scorer,'' Pepe said. ''Their defense is solid but we can definitely run with them. We just have to learn to be patient and be ready to counter what they bring.''
Joining Barney and Dankovchik in the backfield are Chad Hensley and Josh Groves.
The midfield consists of Ryan Duke, Conner Addison, Alex Hannah, Steven Maragos, and Shea Filler.
Up top is leading scorer Kenny Muhart (19 goals, eight assists) and Shane Davis (16 goals, 11 assists).
''This team brings a lot of camaraderie and they complement each other very well,'' Pepe said. ''In previous years, we've had guys like Chad Ford that was a 50-goal scorer but we have nobody that sticks out on this team.
''Everybody is unselfish and willing to pass the ball to whoever is open. The defense works well together and Josh does a great job between the pipes. If we play like I know we can, it should be a good weekend.''
Weir advanced to Beckley with a shootout victory against Wheeling Central in the sectional and a one-goal victory against Tyler Consolidated in the regional. The Red Riders (15-3-2) have already shown some resiliency and Pepe is hoping that carries over.
''They had to work hard and I would rather go in the way we did, knowing we had a struggle, then to walk in and think we have it in the bag,'' Pepe said. ''Work hard for what you get and hopefully with the Lord's help and a little luck, we can win two more.''
Like their male counterparts, Weir is making its fourth straight trip to the state tournament, having lost twice in the championship game to Charleston Catholic, the only Class AA/A winner there has been.
That will change this season as the Irish failed to qualify. Weir will face last season's runner-up Grafton (9:30 a.m. Friday, Carter Field) with Shady Spring facing Sissonville in the other contest.
''It's time for someone new to get that trophy and these girls are ecstatic to try and get it,'' Weir coach Jessica Naughton said. ''We feel we are playing really well right now and that showed against Wheeling Central (a 3-2 overtime victory in the regional championship). Our best hasn't come yet but we think it will this week.''
The Red Riders replaced much of last season's squad but return two important pieces in the backfield in goalie Taylor Gianangeli and sweeper Jessica Derby.
Meghan Finton is the leading goal-scorer with 21, while sophomore Alyssa Shingle (who scored the overtime winner against the Maroon Knights) is right behind her.
Morgan Cassels, Carly Lescallette, Francesca Rock, and Mikayla Davis also look to play a big part in Weir's title chances.
''This team controls the ball so well and that should help us,'' Naughton said. ''One thing about this team is that before we seemed like we always had a lot of seniors that took so much of it on their shoulders.
''Now we have freshmen, juniors, seniors, a whole team that is pretty much a mix of different players and I feel that has really brought them together.''
Despite not winning a title, the Red Riders are the only team in the field that has made the trip all four seasons, giving what Naughton thinks will be a huge bullseye.
''They are fed up of going down there and not coming back with the trophy,'' Naughton said. ''We scrimmaged Grafton at the beginning of the season but we have also grown so much since then.
''We expect our defense and offense to step up with Taylor and Jessica Derby coming up big in the back and Alyssa, Meghan, and Carly having great games up top.''