Knights Always Thinking States
By KYLE LUTZ
WHEELING — Every successful program goes through a rough stretch at one time or another. That time may have been the 2015-16 season for the Wheeling Central girls’ team. Penn Kurtz’s young team had to overcome some adversity throughout the season as the injury bug plagued some of key players. It was also the first time since 2003 that the Maroon Knights did not make the trip to Charleston for the West Virginia Class A Tournament as Madonna defeated them during sectional semifinal. But with a lot of experience coming back, the Maroon Knights look to get back on track.
“We had an up and down year last year,” Kurtz said. “We had some injuries. Lindsey (Baker) hurt her knee. Then, we were real young. I remember one point we were playing all sophomores and freshmen on the court. It was kind of a growing year. It was the first time we had a team in the sectional that looked like they never been in a sectional before. Hopefully we learn from that. I think they come back a little more focused this year. Sometimes when you have that much success, they take it for granted. We won’t do that.”
While Wheeling Central will return a plethora of players from last season, Baker will not as she received her diploma last May. She did not let the knee injury get to her. She impressed many during her final season, eclipsing the 1,000-point mark and being named first team all-state for the second year in a row. Also gone from last year’s team are Madison Taylor, Alyssa Gilligan and Nicole Lewis.
“It’s hard to replace somebody who is all-state,” Kurtz said. “And somebody who could do as many things as Lindsey did. So what we are going to try to do is replace that with a group of people. Again, we are going to be really young. We are going to have one senior, but our young players have played a lot of basketball, so we’re hoping they can blend right in.”
Jaela Manns is the is the lone senior on the team while Riley Blaha, Emilee Ondrik, Riley Bennington, Alexis Saunders, Maria Murphy and Bri Downs are the juniors.
The underclassmen include sophomores Sara Palmer, Kaitlyn Ferns, Bailey Nixon, Cameron McCabe, Michelle Roth and Taylor Duplaga. Eden Gainer, Hannah White and Kaylee Reinbeau are the freshmen.
Duplaga, Manns and Bennington were all starters last year while Blaha and Ferns played quality minutes.
“We should have some decent depth,” Kurtz said.
Wheeling Central will open varsity play Dec. 7 as they travel to Magnolia with a tip off time of 7:30 p.m. It will be the first trip of many for the Maroon Knights in the first month alone as they start out playing six straight road games.
On Dec. 27, they will have their first home game and will be settled in Wheeling for a while as the Maroon Knights will play six straight at home. The home stretch starts with the Undo’s Tournament.
However, the team will be on the road again for five straight away games before another three game home stretch.
“I don’t mind traveling,” Kurtz said. “When you get to tournament time, you have to win on the road. Might as well get used to it. We’re going to play some pretty good teams. We’re going to play in the Williamstown Tournament, then we’re playing at the Glenville Tournament. We playing a tournament with the defending state champs in Gilmer County, St. Marys, Tucker County. They’re going to play pretty good teams in that, which will test us.”
With the success Wheeling Central has had in the past and the returning players they have, the Maroon Knights will be up for the test.
“The primary goal every year is to get to Charleston,” Kurtz said. “In order to do that, we’re going to have to take a young group and bring them together and we’ll use this season to do that. Hopefully we’ll get better every game so by the time the tournament rolls around, we’ll be ready to compete.”
Kurtz is assisted by Paul Kurtz, Suzie Dailer and Hayden Cook.
Dec. 7: Magnolia 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 9: Williamstown Tournament TBA
Dec. 10: Williamstown Tournament TBA
Dec. 13: at St. Marys 5 p.m.
Dec. 17: Glenville Event TBA
Dec. 22: at River 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 28: Undo’s Tournament TBA
Dec. 29: Undo’s Tournament TBA
Jan. 4: Trinity Christian 7 p.m.
Jan. 7: Shadyside 4 p.m.
Jan. 10: Linsly 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 12: River 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 16: at Notre Dame 6 p.m.
Jan. 18: at Shadyside 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 20: at Charleston Catholic 4:30 p.m.
Jan. 21: at Sissonville 1:30 p.m.
Jan. 24: at Linsly 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 28: Madonna 3 p.m.
Feb. 3: Charleston Catholic 6 p.m.
Feb. 6: OVAC Tournament TBA
Feb 11: OVAC Tournament TBA
Feb. 15: Notre Dame 7 p.m.