Rich Stevens: With Davis on sideline, my interest is reignited in girls basketball
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The eyes of the state's athletic prep interests are on boys basketball every year when winter turns to spring.
The attention girls basketball received didn't change much, even when it quit competing with football in 1995 and switched its State Tournament to March beginning the next winter.
There still are pockets of curiosity and, perhaps passing, interest in distaff hoops.
I'm not here to assure that girls basketball gets the credit it deserves, because the interest remains fleeting and likely always will.
My interest, however, spikes occasionally, which happened on Saturday when I tested my below-average photography skills on the sidelines at George Washington High School, where the Patriots were playing Wheeling Park.
It was two of the top three teams in the preseason coaches poll - Wheeling Park was second and George Washington third. Morgantown is No. 1.
It marked the return of former Wheeling Park star and Coach Dee Davis to the Kanawha Valley.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a 1985 graduate of Wheeling Park, but this was about more than any particular fondness I - honestly - never had for Wheeling Park athletics.
As a sportswriter at the Wheeling Intelligencer, I watched Davis guide the Wheeling Park girls team to a 101-84 victory over previously unbeaten and defending champion Fairmont Senior in the 1998 state title game.
To put the result in perspective, Florida's state championship game record for points is 100 - achieved only once.
In 1999, Wheeling Park used different tactics - defense - to defeat Shawntay Smith and GW 69-35 in the title game.
That's the same Davis who scored a Class AAA tournament-record 43 points against Greenbrier East in the 1978 final four. She could score, and proved she can also coach.
She had resigned as Park coach five years ago and was replaced by Meredith Dailer. The last of Dailer's three consecutive State Tournament appearances in 2012 was as a mother-to-be, so she hung up the whistle for baby wipes and bobbers.
On Saturday, Wheeling Park defeated GW in the host Patriots' season opener in Davis' third game back.
Despite the defeat, Kanawha Valley's Patriots are poised for another run at a state title, returning five starters from last year's team that lost by four points in the semifinals to eventual state champion Greenbrier East.
If the GW guards improve their outside shooting and Kelli Jo Harrison adds aggression to go with her muscle, the Patriots could be a force.
Morgantown, which lost in last year's quarterfinals by five points to Wheeling Park, held the Patriots to 38 points in a 51-38 victory at Morgantown on Tuesday. The deeper Mohigans snapped a seven-game losing streak to Park and are No. 1 for a reason.
This Wheeling Park team isn't unlike the 1998 squad - very little size, talent and good shooters (although that team 14 years ago had to quell some in-season strife before setting a state championship game record).
You can't sleep on Greenbrier East, which returned one of its Tennessee transplants - All-Stater Bianca Andre - in time to give Coach Jim Justice another dangerous team.
It's too early to tell perhaps, but this is a four-team race in Class AAA. Wheeling Park enters the conversation not because it was No. 2, but by virtue of the return of Davis.
The decision-making of the Wheeling Park scorers is questionable, at best, so far this season. Much like every other team, they'll get better.
Wheeling Park senior guard Haley Robb thinks so, and credits Davis.
"She gives us goals each game," Robb said. "She wants us to score as many points and be as close to being like her team as we can.
"She's more like us, down to earth. She's a better fit for our team. She has a shooter's mentality. She wants you to shoot and if you don't shoot, she'll let you know about it. She's awesome."
In short, that record-breaking team performance in the 1998 state title game couldn't have happened without Davis giving her team the freedom to shoot at will.
I'll go out on a sturdy limb and say it won't happen again, but I don't care.
As long as Davis is coaching a team, you bet I'm interested.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837.