Prep Notebook: Special year for Tri-State athletes
This is a year unlike many others for Tri-State high school athletes.
When the early signing period started last week, there were 10 area NCAA Division I signees in the first three days.
Four were from the Huntington Prep Academy boys basketball team -- Xavier Rathan-Mayes to Florida State, Moses Kingsley to Arkansas, Dominic Woodson to Baylor and Travon Landry to Tennessee.
Then, there were six local signees -- kids who grew up here, learned the sport here and played for high schools here for the duration of their young lives.
The six had several things in common, too.
All possessed high-major potential in their sports, all six were female and all six decided to stay at home and represent Marshall University at the next level.
It is the start of a special trend in the area, and signals how strong girls high school sports are.
Those six signees represent three different sports and three different area high schools.
On Wednesday, Cabell Midland's duo of Cassie Weaver and Taylor Riedel inked to join Marshall volleyball coach Mitch Jacobs.
On Thursday, Huntington High's Kiana Evans became the first signee for new Marshall women's basketball coach Matt Daniel.
And on Friday, Marshall's softball team picked up National Letters of Intent from three highly-talented softball players -- Cabell Midland's Morgan Zerkle and Morgan Kelley and Wayne's Jessica Watts.
Marshall softball is coming off a 2012 season when the Herd advanced to the Conference USA championship game with a crop of local talent that included Andi Williamson (Chapmanville), Ashley Gue (Cabell Midland) and Samantha Spurlock (Huntington High).
The point of the matter is this.
I've covered this area for several years now -- going on No. 13, if you want to get precise.
Year after year, I've watched area prospects sign National Letters of Intent, and those who have been talented enough for the Division I ranks have gone elsewhere.
It's nice to see the talent level not only rising in this area, but also to see those talented players staying in the Tri-State for fans to continue to marvel at their talents for four more years.
RELIEVED: Cabell Midland linebacker Nick Boone was all smiles Friday night after the Knights beat Spring Valley, 28-26, in a West Virginia Class AAA football quarterfinal game at Cabell Midland. He came up with a blocked extra point after Spring Valley's third score, allowing the unbeaten and No. 1 seed to keep the lead at 21-20.
When it was over, he and his defensive mates knew they'd tangled with Spring Valley backs Elijah Wellman and Ryan George for the last time. Wellman carried 27 times for 133 yards and three scores and George piled up 146 on 18 carries, the highlight a 34-yard TD run in the second period.
"I'm probably not going to be able to walk tomorrow," Boone said. "They're a very good team. We knew that coming in.
Offensive tackle Josh Baisden helped teammate David Gaydosz break the line of scrimmage many times. He then looked on as Gaydosz zigged and zagged his way to 167 yards and a TD.
"We work hard and had a good game plan," Baisden said. "It's great to have him in the game. He keeps us going."
"(College) coaches are impressed with my vision," Gaydosz said. "I keep looking downfield. They like that."
Baisden and his teammates held their breath as Spring Valley tried to mount a go-ahead drive late in the fourth period. The end came when a long fourth-down pass fell incomplete with 2:08 to play to assure the Knights a home game this week against Morgantown in one semifinal and end one of the most successful seasons in Spring Valley history.
"I've got a lot of faith in our defense," Baisden said. "We all were yelling for them to ge the stop. I won't have a voice tomorrow."
For Spring Valley coach Brad Dingess, he won't have Wellman, who starts at linebacker and is headed to West Virginia University, and George anymore. Wellman, who had just 12 yards rushing in the 21-13 season-opening loss at Cabell Midland, closed the season with 1,689 yards and 18 TDs after scoring three times Friday night. George wrapped up with 1,303 yards and 16 scores.
"They're good football players and good men off the field," Dingess said. "Their leadership meant a lot to this team."
FAMILIARITY: Wayne's football team is in the state semifinals for the 10th time in 12 years. The Pioneers captured Class AA championships last season and in 2006. They lost state championship games in 2009 and 2004.
Coach Tom Harmon anticipates getting Robert C. Byrd's best shot this week.
"When you get in a semifinal game, that is real excitement," Harmon said. "That's a time a lot of kids dream about playing for a state championship when they're little and it all kind of comes to a culmination there in one game. If you play well, you get a chance to win it. If you don't, there's a lot of long faces. It's not like we haven't been in that situation before. We've been on both ends of it.
"Robert C. Byrd is going to experience it for the first time and a lot of times when they experience it for the first time, they get excited and they play well. They have the type of athletes that if they want to play really well, they're a force."
Grant Traylor is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2759 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter (@GrantTraylor).