CHARLESTON - The Bears are out to defend their title.
The Oak Glen volleyball team will begin its quest of repeating as state champions on Friday at the West Virginia Class AA state tournament. The Bears are scheduled to begin play at 8:30 a.m. against James Monroe at the Charleston Civic Center.
In 2011, Oak Glen defeated Ritchie County in the state title match. It was the fourth state championship for head coach Ethel Riser who is in her 32nd season with the Bears.
Oak Glen’s Sydney Kell sets the ball against Fairmont Senior as teammate Morgan?Poling and Lacee Porter (32) look on against?Fairmont Senior in a West Virginia Class AA Region 1 Section 1 Semifinal Nov. 1 at Oak?Glen. (Photo by Aaron?Petchal)
"Every time is different," the veteran coach said. "There's a new excitement with each group of new kids. I want to share those feelings and experiences I've had over the years with each new group.
"The best part about the whole thing is just being there with the kids and seeing the excitement in their eyes."
The Bears are well prepared for the difficult task ahead of them.
Every season, Riser creates the team's schedule with one word in mind - challenging. Oak Glen has compiled an impressive 37-6 record on the year which is even more amazing when the level of competition is scrutinized.
"We're ready for anybody," Riser said. "We've played more (Class) AAA schools than probably all the others down there combined.
"It's prepared us for this moment. You only get better by playing the tougher teams. I've always tried to fill the schedule with a variety of schools and tournaments."
If Oak Glen gets past James Monroe in the opener, it will face the winner of Frankfort-Nicholas County on Friday at 6:30 p.m. The others schools filling out the talented field vying for a spot in the title game scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday include Ritchie County, Pikeview, Herbert Hoover and Philip Barbour.
Oak Glen appears primed to capture the school's fifth state title. The Bears lost only one player to graduation from last year's championship squad. The team returns seven letter winners including seniors Sydney Kell, Abby Tice, Kaitlyn Smith and Lacee Porter who won first team all-state honors in 2011.
The task will not be an easy one though, according to Riser.
"Defending a title is much harder," she said. "Everyone's out to get you. It's been that way all year. But, that's helped us get ready for this opportunity. We're just going to go out and play as hard as we can."
Riser said she believes this year's team has a unique bond that has proven to be their source of strength.
"The best part about this team is that it is a team," she said. "We don't have any "I" players. It takes a total team effort and that's what they bring. It's not just one person. They really know how to work together."
While every state title is special, Riser said winning the fifth of her career would be quite an accomplishment.
"I'm looking for one for the thumb," she said. "It would be a thumbs up for everyone. If we get it, it would mean we've accomplished a lot together."
NOTES: Oak Glen won the regional title this year on Nov. 3 by defeating Ritchie County, 25-20, 25-10, 25-21, at East Fairmont High School. The team will be departing from Oak Glen High School on Thursday at 8 a.m. They will hold a practice at Charleston Catholic High School on Thursday afternoon before heading to Charleston where they will be staying at the Embassy Suites. Oak Glen's four state titles were won in 2011, 2008, 1999 and 1998.