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Girls basketball: Capital, Spring Valley took different paths to reach State Tournament

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- These are not the Capital and Spring Valley girls basketball teams of a decade ago.

The No. 8 seed Cougars (10-13) and No. 1 Timberwolves (22-3) face off in a first round State Tournament game at 7:15 p.m. today at the Charleston Civic Center. Each has followed a very different path - this season and over the past 10 years - to get to this point.

Both are relatively young schools born out of consolidation. Capital, a combining of Class AAA Stonewall Jackson and Charleston, opened in 1989. Spring Valley was formed from four small schools - Vinson, Ceredo-Kenova, Buffalo (Wayne) and Ceredo District - in 1998.

Historically, the Cougars stand among the state's elite programs.

Since opening its doors Capital has qualified for five State Tournaments and won two.

The 2001-02 squad, featuring WNBA players Alexis Hornbuckle and Renee Montgomery, is generally considered one of the best high school girls basketball team ever in West Virginia, finishing 27-0.

The Cougars also captured three Mountain State Athletic Conference titles with twins Shawnita and Shawnice Garland on the floor.

The Timberwolves have fielded several solid teams. The 2002-03 squad advanced to the State Tournament semifinals and Spring Valley made it to the MSAC title game in 2006 before losing to Capital.

Still, playing in a tough section and region against teams like Huntington, Nitro, George Washington and South Charleston, often left Spring Valley as the odd team out.

Not this year, though.

Led by a strong sophomore class featuring point guard Sarah Kelly and post player Madison Morris, Spring Valley not only comes back to the State Tournament, but is the top seed.

Of course, that is courtesy of Capital upsetting presumptive top seed Greenbrier East in last week's Class AAA Region 3 co-final.

"The good news is we made it," Cougars Coach B.J. Calabrese said.

"The bad news is we play Spring Valley."

While the girls basketball history at Capital is rich with names like Hornbuckle, Montgomery, RaeRae Sayles and the Garlands, it has been just history for the past several seasons.

Hornbuckle and Montgomery transferred to South Charleston after the 2002 season along with two other players and Capital has not been back to the State Tournament since. That is in spite of the MSAC titles won in 2005, '06, and '07.

This season's team showed all of the indications early on of being just another mediocre team much like had become the norm in recent seasons.

Then came last Thursday's win in Lewisburg.

"I've never been disappointed with our physical effort," Calabrese said. "Sometimes we haven't played real smart though."

That began to turn late in the season when Capital forced ninth-ranked George Washington to overtime before barely losing.

"Over the last three weeks of the season we've played our best ball," Calabrese said. "I've really started to see improvement in the girls."

That happened to be about the time the Cougars made what could have been deemed an ill-advised trip to Lewisburg to play Greenbrier East.

Capital ended up losing by a 68-57 count.

"Making that trip down to Greenbrier East two weeks before regionals made some people wonder," Calabrese said. "But I think it really helped us."

The Cougars won last week's game 54-45 as senior Keke Walker finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. Another senior, Brianna Harris grabbed 12 rebounds.

Khadijah Lee, another senior, leads Capital in scoring averaging 13.1 points per game while Walker averages 10.9.

Morris leads the Timberwolves with 17.8 points and 12 rebounds per game with Kelly scoring an average of 10.6 points and leading the squad in assists.

Spring Valley likes to apply baseline-to-baseline defensive pressure.

"What they do they do really, really, well like the press," Calabrese said. "We've really got to protect the ball."

Meanwhile the Timberwolves' main problem could be inexperience.

"I hope they can handle it," Spring Valley Coach Bo Miller said after his Region 4 co-final win over Winfield last week. "They were a little awestruck tonight at the crowd we had and it took us a quarter and a half to get going."

The Timberwolves won the regular season meeting at home by a 70-40 score.

"The girls realize what we are facing, we did not play very well when we went there," Calabrese said. "We're going to play hard and see what happens."

What will happen is either the Cougars will reclaim their tradition or Spring Valley will begin one.


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