Knights Have Eye on the Prize
By KYLE LUTZ
WHEELING — After failing to make it to Charleston during the 2015-16 season, the Wheeling Central girls’ basketball team got back to its roots, putting together a one-loss regular season during the process. Wheeling Central made it to Charleston before getting defeated by Williamstown in the semifinals to end its season at 25-2. What’s more impressive, the Maroon Knights sported one senior.
“We were very young and saw some freshmen grow up quickly,” Wheeling Central coach Penn Kurtz said. “25-2 is an outstanding record. Unfortunately it was a pretty disappointing loss in the semifinals. Just had one of those days. I think we took 27 more shots and lost by six points. So it was frustrating, but it was also great for them to develop, a chance to get to play. Our juniors last year were excellent. They’re going to come back and be great senior leaders this year. We’re excited.”
And why shouldn’t they be? The Maroon Knights return all their starters and also had four players that averaged double figures including first team all-stater Taylor Duplaga. Duplaga enters her senior season after averaging 14.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3 steals and 2.4 assists. Classmate Riley Bennington compiled a little more than 10 points a contest last year while Eden Gainer and Kaylee Reinbeau became household names during their first varsity season. Both players put up just more than 12 points a contest.
“That was what was fun about watching this team,” Kurtz said about not having that standout player. “The girls shared the ball well. They’re all excited for each other to do well. And even when players had off games, they managed to excel at another area. Kaylee Reinbeau struggled one day from the floor but still had 17 rebounds. Eden Gainer’s shot was off one night and she had five steals. Taylor Duplaga and Riley Bennington did the same thing all season long.”
Kaitlyn Ferns, who averaged more than five points a game, last season returns for her junior campaign along with Bailey Nixon.
Riley Blaha, who played quality minutes last year as a junior had surgery on her foot mid-November and Kurtz hopes she can be back on the court sometime down the road.
Hannah White, a sophomore, will play a key role for the Maroon Knights. As a freshman, White scored just more than five points a game. Senior Lexi Saunders is coming back and will also see some quality minutes as well.
Kurtz also likes what he is seeing from some underclassmen, and said come playoff time could really help them out in freshmen Tristan White and Marisa Huran, along with sophomores Maggie Fahey and Allison Davidson.
“The outlook is bright,” Kurtz said. “We’re going to play a tough, early schedule and see where we are, measure where we are and then try to get better each game and hopefully take one more step than we did last year.”
The Maroon Knights open up with Linsly, followed by a trip to Morgantown to take on the Mohigans. And while the schedule looks tough, the Maroon Knights will be up for the challenge.
“We hope so,” Kurtz said. “We tried to test them out with a difficult summer schedule and they responded well most of the time. We had some great practices early on. And it will be a great test. We’ll find out early where we are, what we need to improve and hopefully get better every day.”
And after that tough schedule to start the season, the Maroon Knights will be ready to take on anyone with their eyes on the same goals that they’ve had for many years.
“The expectations are pretty high,” Kurtz said. “They are every year when you play at Central. Certainly we would like to win at OVACs, repeat as champions. We are moving up a bracket, so that’s going to be a little tougher. They are some good teams. And then when we get to the tournament, our goal is to always get down to Charleston. Once you get there, you have a chance, and if we play up to our capabilities, then it could be a real, exciting end of the year for us.”
Kurtz is assisted by Suzie Dailer, Hayden Cook and Chris Bucon.