CHARLESTON - With six seniors, Wheeling Central coach Penn Kurtz feels this is the best team he's had since 2008.
That team was successful in capturing the Class A championship and this one has that same feel.
The road to that goal for the No. 2 Maroon Knights begins at 1 this afternoon against Charleston Catholic in the quarterfinals of the West Virginia Class A Girls' Basketball Tournament at the Civic Center Coliseum.
"The girls are very excited," Kurtz said. "It's always fun to get down to Charleston. We have six seniors, so that is in our favor. We are balanced with scoring on offense and we play the kind of defense that, when you have seniors that have been in a system for four years, becomes really effective."
Wheeling Central (22-3) is arguably playing its best basketball at the perfect time. The Maroon Knights advanced with a sectional victory against Weirton Madonna and a regional triumph vs. St. Marys, two top-10 teams in Class A.
That comes on the heels of topping perennial Ohio power Shadyside to win the OVAC 2A championship and two victories against Wheeling Park, the No. 4-ranked team in Class AAA.
"I feel like our regional game against St. Marys was our best game," Kurtz said. "The hard part is to carry that momentum. You sit around and wait for a week before you get to play again. We have tried to do simulated game situations and trying to do the things our opponents like to do."
The Maroon Knights have four players scoring in double figures, led by junior Emily Bucon.
Bucon, a second team all-state selection and first team All-Valley performer last season, has been having another solid season with 14.3 points per game and 4.1 rebounds. Bucon is very aggressive and has no problem driving to the basket whether she is guarded by multiple defenders or not.
Another strength has been the play of Colleen McCormick.
At 5-foot-9, the junior is one of the best post players you will see in Charleston. She averages a double-double with 13.7 points and 10.1 rebounds.
As if McCormick standing near the basket was hard enough, Julia Palmer (5-10, 5.1 pts, 2.9 rebounds) roams there as well.
Rounding out the Wheeling Central starting lineup is a pair of senior guards in Cassie Sorge (10.3 pts, 3.7 rebounds) and Bri Robbins (10.4 pts, 4.6 rebounds) that are dangerous threats to knock down 3-pointers.
First off the bench are the team's tallest players in Ashley Martin and Angela Sparachane, both at 5-11, along with Emily Wizba and Beth Stayduhar.
Wheeling Central is in the state tournament for the 10th straight season. Its first-round opponent, Charleston Catholic, is no stranger to the Big Dance, either.
This Irish team is much different than the one that has had plenty of success in recent seasons, though.
Ashley Shepler coaches a young team with a starting lineup consisting of two sophomores and a freshman.
Senior Anna Wood is the leading scorer at 9.4 points per game. Anna Wheland and Catherine Bandak averaged 9.2 points, followed by Hanna Gallian (7.6) and Kathryn Dunderville (4.4).
Wheeling Central won both regular season meetings in convincing fashion - 58-35 and 44-25 - but Kurtz expects a much different Irish squad.
"They are young team but they keep getting better," Kurtz said. "They are always a challenge and they play a very aggressive man-to-man and have quick shooters.
"We are going to have to take care of the basketball because every possession is important and play great defense. Those two things are what are going to get us through this tournament. I expect us to be nervous and when that happens, you don't know how your offense is going to react. Not turning the ball over and playing great defense can carry you through that."