Wheeling Central Back in Charleston

Maroon Knights open tourney play vs. Trinity

Wheeling Central’s Hannah White puts up a shot during a Regional Co-Final against Ritchie County. Photo by Kyle Lutz Wheeling Central’s Hannah White puts up a shot during a Regional Co-Final against Ritchie County.

WHEELING–One word came to mind when Wheeling Central girls coach Penn Kurtz summarized the current season–interesting.

The Maroon Knights have seen plenty of success on the court, gathering a 22-2 record. In the two losses to Morgantown and Sissonville, they never lost by more than four points.

The campaign got interesting when injuries and illness struck Kurtz’s club. It was especially hard when sophomore standout Eden Gainer suffered a torn labrum early in the year.

Despite the setbacks, Central continued to drive forward and increased its win total as players stepped up when they were needed most.

“It’s been an interesting season,” Kurtz said. “We have had to change the lineup several times due to injuries and illnesses. It caused us to make adjustments along the way and we got Gainer back three games ago.

“During that time, we learned that we have some pretty good depth. She is a tough player to make up for but we had just one loss during that span.”

Wheeling Central managed to overcome the adversity it faced and make a returning trip to the state tournament in Charleston after an 88-41 regional championship victory over Ritchie County.

“Anytime you can make it down to the state tournament, you have to face some adversity,” Kurtz said. “You just have to be able to overcome that.”

The Knights also knocked off Madonna and Cameron in convincing fashion to win a sectional title.

The No. 2 Maroon Knights will open tourney play at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Charleston Civic Center when they face No. 7 seed Trinity (13-12), a rematch of a Jan. 25 contest that resulted in a 62-44 Central victory.

“It was a close game,” Kurtz said. “It was just a four-point game late in the game. We just started to create turnovers and created baskets to get away. We played without Gainer and Kaitlyn Ferns in that game, so we had to dig deep and the girls did.”

The Class A state tournament bracket consists of a powerful group of teams, which makes a trip to the title game anything but easy.

“The field is very interesting,” Kurtz said. “Tucker County (23-1) is a good team with a lot of seniors who are committed. Magnolia (16-9) has been playing great toward the end of the season, Parkersburg Catholic (24-0) is undefeated and St. Joseph Central (17-7) is the defending state champions and it is loaded.”

All five starters for Wheeling Central average at least 10 points per game.

Leading Central into the state tournament is senior Taylor Duplaga, who is averaging 16.7 points per game with 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. She also picked up her 1,000th point this season.

Gainer, who is coming off a 26-point regional final performance carries a 15.1 points per game average with 3.4 boards and 2.3 assists.

Kaylee Reinbeau comes in with 14.9 points a game and 7.8 rebounds. Hannah White provides 11.8 points a game and Riley Bennington is next with 10.6 points a game and six boards.

Four seniors give the Knights the leadership they need to make a run at a state championship.

“They’ve been outstanding,” Kurtz said. “Bennington and Duplaga are both leaders on the court. Riley Blaha had foot surgery last year and came back strong. She gives us someone to turn to off the bench. Alexis Saunders is a coach’s dream. She does it all and she works hard. You always know what you are going to get from her when she is on the floor.”

Wheeling Central will be looking to get back to the state title game for the first time since falling to St. Joseph by a 40-37 score in 2015, and is searching for its first championship victory since 2008.