CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you remember the Kanawha Valley's dominance in the Class AAA boys basketball state tournament, you'll recall that the success was unmatched.
From 1971 until 1987, 16 Class AAA teams from Kanawha and Putnam counties won a state title or finished as runner-up with Coach Lou Romano's Charleston Mountain Lions (1973-74) and Coach Don Stover's Stonewall Jackson Generals (1985-86) winning back-to-back championships. Five other Valley teams contributed to that era of success with George Washington (1971 title under Coach Fred Aldridge), Dunbar (1972 runner-up), St. Albans (runner-up in 1975, '80, '85) East Bank (runner-up in 1978) and South Charleston (runner-up in 1982, '83).
What was to follow was far less memorable for Valley basketball afficionados.
The only bright spot during a down era was Coach Carl Clark guiding Capital to three straight visits to the championship game and consecutive crowns in 2000 and 2001.
In the years from 1988 until 1992 no Class AAA teams represented the Valley in the title game. Here's a more stunning number: From 1993 until the present, just 11 of the Valley's big school teams reached the championship, and that includes Capital's three-year run.
I'm not getting ahead of myself in declaring that we're returning to an era of remarkable success.
I will make a less daring proclamation.
This will be a season worth remembering in the Kanawha Valley and I'll tell you why: intriguing matchups and superb overall talent.
Thanks to the magic of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Hoops Classic and a well-timed vacation of Daily Mail preps editor Derek Taylor, I've seen six of the Valley teams before the break.
Here is my assessment.
Capital - The Cougars have had their fair share of drama over the years, but the senior leadership of Carrington Morris is guiding them to the light. Capital is 4-0, which includes signature road wins against George Washington and Hurricane. The Cougars have always been a team that capitalizes on momentum, but haven't had much of it in recent years. They have it now and are playing as a team. I opined last year that basketball in the Kanawha Valley is better when Capital is good. Well guys, Capital is good.
Worth the price of admission: vs. South Charleston, Jan. 9. This is a great rivalry and both teams are poised for big seasons. A confidence-builder for whoever wins this one.
George Washington - These Patriots aren't unlike the 2012-13 squad that lost to Riverside in the sectional semifinals. They'll lean on newcomer Jon Elmore, but, much like Luke Eddy last year, he'll need help in the scoring column. That is, when he drives to the basket, draws attention and kicks the ball to the perimeter, his teammates need to make the shot. Coach Rick Greene has evolved as a coach, and instead of leaning heavily on man-to-man defense, he doesn't mind throwing in a zone defense to fit his personnel. Teams will see a lot of that this season. I'm not sure what to expect from the Patriots this year in the win column, but they'll be fun to watch. Elmore will see to that.
Worth the price of admission: at South Charleston, Jan. 3. Elmore returning to face the program he helped guide to the State Tournament in 2011 and 2012. You think there are some hard feelings?
Hurricane - The Redskins and South Charleston were the only KV teams to reach the State Tournament last year. Hurricane is loaded with athleticism and basketball talent, but it'll need to figure out how to shoot free throws. They already have had an instant classic against Capital, but going 1-for-8 from the line in the fourth quarter does the Redskins no favors. Henry Sorsaia should average a double-double and his supporting cast is solid. Another State Tournament trip isn't out of the question.
Worth the price of admission: at Winfield, Saturday. Jake Lemmerman is the starting point guard for the Redskins after playing for Winfield his first three seasons. You think there are some hard feelings? Is there an echo in here?
Riverside - Victories might be hard to come by with a new coach (Ryan Carter) and a new system, but if the Warriors can develop into playing "five-on-five" instead of one-on-one, they're dangerous. Tyus Wood is fun to watch and seems to embrace a leadership role and Tamar Lawson is developing into a superb No. 2 scorer.