Let all the preseason hype begin, if it hasn’t started already.
Today is the final break before the fall sports season officially kicks off at the high school level.
On Monday, most student-athletes start a grueling preseason camp (under hot and humid conditions to start the week) leading up to the first games, matches and tournaments in five different sports — football, soccer, cross country, golf and volleyball.
With summer vacation coming to a close for these athletes, here’s a sneak peak at what’s to be expected on the sports scene in Marion County this fall.
o First things first — “Football Friday.”
J.L. Abbott enters his second year as West Fairmont’s head coach following a successful opening season on the sidelines.
The Polar Bears compiled a 6-4 regular season and earned the No. 15 seed out of 16 teams in the AAA state playoffs. Second-seeded Jefferson took the momentum early and ran with it en route to a 39-7 win. The Cougars were upset the following week by University High.
West didn’t suffer too many significant losses outside of Mount Union College-bound Jay Carpenter (punter, kicker, wideout), safety Michael Michalski, fullback/linebacker John Brown, linebacker Antonio Harris, return specialist Leon Maddox and linemen Matt Bosley, Trey Wilson, Nathan Terry and Justin Ammons.
Kyle Allard returns for his second full season under center as do running back Jerry Kelly and wide receiver Ben Kettering — the Polar Bears’ triple threat. Allard will have plenty of options to consider on the offensive side of the ball, while Abbott and Co. have improved their defensive schemes.
The only question now is whether or not Abbott can sustain his instant success and guide West to consecutive playoff appearances.
On the other side of town, East Fairmont endured a roller-coaster 2005 campaign.
Bill Haddox’s squad ended up 5-5 after getting blown out by West in the season finale. But the Bees let three road games slip away, costing them a shot at releasing the playoff demons that have hovered above following the 1976 season.
East only graduated nine seniors, but among them were Adam Leonard (QB/DB), Bryan Lane (RB/LB), Ryan Lane (OL/LB), big-play wide receiver Jacob Janicki and linemen Gaynon Bunner, Wesley Hall and Michael Merrifield.
The Bees do return plenty, though, with talented junior- and senior-to-be classes highlighted by Zach Boone, Derek Sevier, Carter DeVault, L.T. Harbert and brothers Morgan and Pat Murphy, just to name a few.
So will this be the year the proverbial monkey is lifted off East’s back?
North Marion’s problems have been well documented this summer in regard to having low interest in the program. It’s been such a rough summer that longtime head coach Gerry White nearly resigned.
Now White expects numbers to be in the upper 20s when camp opens Monday morning. The Huskies are coming off a disappointing 4-6 season when White said the team should have gone 7-3 following close losses against West, Robert C. Byrd and Wheeling Park.
However, the majority of last year’s experience has graduated, leaving a young squad placed squarely on the shoulders of a small senior class led by Johnny Rogers and Lance Keezee.
So will a fourth straight losing season be in the cards for White and Co.?
o Marion County captured three of the four legs at the state cross country meet last fall in Mineral Wells.
North Marion’s boys’ team won the Class AAA title and West Fairmont freshman David Ciarolla took the boys’ individual crown. North Marion’s Keri Bland repeated as girls’ champion, while Morgantown edged out Preston and Cabell Midland for the girls’ team title. North Marion finished fourth.
Preseason rankings have Cabell Midland as the teams to beat in both the boys’ and girls’ divisions. And why not? The state meet shifts to the Knights’ home course in Cabell County for 2006 and 2007.
There are a couple of questions entering the running season.
What will North Marion’s girls’ team be like after Bland (she was virtually unbeatable in two years on the cross-country paths)?
And can Ciarolla follow a fabulous freshman year with a standout sophomore season making him 2-for-2?
o West Fairmont stole the county spotlight on the soccer field as both the boys’ and girls’ teams enjoyed record-breaking seasons.
The Polar Bears advanced to the state tournament, but came up short on their bids for the school’s first-ever championships.
Fifteen seniors led Jim DeNardi’s Polar Bear boys to the state runner-up trophy after bowing to Parkersburg, 1-0. Only Brett Parker and Joey Buonaiuto return as starters.
Also, Debbie Cattafesta’s Polar Bear girls dropped a 1-0 decision to eventual state champion Elkins during the state semifinals. West returns all but four girls from a year ago.
If the Polar Bears are to make return trips to Beckley, the road there remains a difficult one.
Will East and North Marion be able to derail West and challenge for NCAC and county supremacy?
o Golf and volleyball both have state connections to look forward to again.
West Fairmont’s junior-to-be golfer Mark Gardner is the lone returning state qualifier. As a sophomore, Gardner posted a two-day total of 156 (80-76) and placed 13th in the Class AAA golf championships in Wheeling. The Polar Bears also return NCAC Golfer of the Year Matt Pellillo.
Meanwhile, East Fairmont’s volleyball squad returned to the state tournament after a seven-year absence, but the Bees were eliminated by Spring Valley in the quarterfinals. After a few losses to graduation, East hasn’t discounted the chance of returning to Charleston.
E-mail Andrew Manzo at email@example.com.
Let all the preseason hype begin, if it hasn’t started already.
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