Eight soccer teams based in Cabell, Putnam and Kanawha counties head into Friday’s state soccer semifinals, to be held Friday at Paul Cline Memorial Sports Complex in Beckley, still in the running for state championships.
Within those eight squads are a myriad of story lines, histories and motivating factors ahead of Friday’s contests.
Three of them — George Washington boys, Winfield boys and Hurricane girls — are defending state champions. Three of them, with storied traditions, are trying to end title droughts (Charleston Catholic boys last won in 2014, Catholic girls in 2015 and Winfield girls in 2016). And two of them, George Washington’s girls team and Cabell Midland’s boys team, are still searching for the first state crown.
Once in Beckley, all will find unique and challenging paths to that final prize, with the Generals girls team opening up the tournament with a Class AA-A game against Oak Glen at 9:30 a.m. The Catholic girls will follow after the conclusion of that match. On the Class AAA field, Cabell Midland and University square off at 10 a.m. in a boys match with GW and Hedgesville set to follow.
After the morning matches conclude, play will halt until 4:30 and 5 p.m. when both fields fire back up again. The Winfield girls (18-5-1) have the only first-year coach making the trip in Jade Smith, a former Generals player. Though Smith is part of Winfield’s storied past, a record five titles in a row 2012-2016 and eight overall, her time with the program came without a state tournament appearance. So Friday will mark her debut in the semifinals.
“It feels awesome,” Smith said. “When I was at Winfield, we made it to regionals and never to states. It used to be all classes together and we always lost that regional game.”
These Generals players, however, are no strangers to Beckley. The program is making its ninth straight trip to the state tournament. Included in that mix are senior forward Julianne Pauley (24 goals), senior midfielder Peyton Frohnapfel (19 goals, 12 assists) and junior midfielder Ava Hall (16 goals, 17 assists), the team’s statistical leaders.
While Winfield packs plenty of experience, so does the Charleston Catholic girls squad making a sixth straight trek to Beckley with plenty of unfinished business to attend to. The Irish (20-1) put together the best regular season of any Valley team and has wins over Hurricane and Winfield.
The Irish start just two seniors in defender Jenna Panaro and goalkeeper Katie Nester, who combined with centerback Audrey Miller has buoyed a defensive unit that has yielded just six goals this season. Junior midfielder Lindsay Carr leads the team in goals (20) and assists (12).
While the AA-A girls are waging war, so too will a pair of Class AAA semifinals between boys foes. Cabell Midland and University will start the proceedings at 10 a.m. with George Washington squaring off with Hedgesville after. The Knights climbed out of Region 4 with wins over Huntington in the sectional final and Parkersburg in the regional championships. CMHS is trying to reach its first state soccer final in program history.
The Knights will lean on a quartet of players with at least 12 goals scored on the season. Senior Omar Baryun has tallied 24 goals so far this season. Senior Joseph Sheils and sophomore Ryan Holmes have scored 13 each and Simon Anton has scored 12.
The Patriots (21-2) will attempt to do something never done before in program history — win back-to-back championships. GW has five total titles to its credit and enters Friday with a senior-laden team full of experience, skill and athleticism at all levels.
After the morning wave of games, a break will conclude at 4:30 with the Winfield boys (19-1-4) taking on Fairmont Senior and also searching for a second straight championship. The teams played to a 0-0 draw in the regular season.
The Generals have relied on a senior-heavy defense anchored by goalie Nathan Lanham and backs Richard Smith and Jacob Verno among others, but lately, junior Braxton Vanscoy has come alive. He booted in four goals against Point Pleasant in a Region 4 final and enters the state tournament with 39.
“Last year when we went in there, everybody was like, ‘They’re inexperienced, they won’t make it,’” Vanscoy said. “But we made it happen. This year with the experience, we definitely have a chance with this team.”
The Class AA-A boys field may be the most wide open of any in Beckley with another doozy between Charleston Catholic (19-1-3) and Robert C. Byrd in the night cap. The teams met in the regular season and tied 1-1.
The Irish boast a balanced scoring attack with contributions from Wil Swan (33 goals, 20 assists), David Kershner (26 goals), Zion Suddeth (13 goals, 18 assists) and Aidan Paul (15 assists). But in Byrd, Catholic will have to slow one of the state’s most explosive forwards in Khori Miles, who carries 51 goals and 13 assists into the state tournament.
Just a half hour after Winfield begins its pursuit of a title defense, the Hurricane girls will do the same on the Class AAA field, matching up with Morgantown at 5 p.m. The Mohigans handed Hurricane a 3-0 defeat late in the regular season, one of just two losses for the Redskins (19-2-1) so far on the year.
Making matters more difficult, the Redskins will be without sophomore forward Bailey Fisher, who tore her ACL in a 2-0 win over Parkersburg South in a Region 4 final. Fisher set the unofficial state record for goals in a season this year with 66.
But maybe lost behind that is the fact that Hurricane also boasts one of, if not the stingiest defense in the state with only five goals allowed all season. Coach Shelly Young said her team will have to rely on that more than ever this weekend.
“We were going to have to do something different against Morgantown regardless,” Young said. “We were rattled the first time against them. They’re skillful and we’re going to have to play to our strengths, keep our composure and stay disciplined.”
Junior goalkeeper Olivia Bird leads the Valley with 19 shutouts with freshman Madison Francis as well as juniors Sydnee Bell, Abby Fowler and Maddie Mayberry making up that tough defensive unit. Senior Dani Ray (13 goals, 20 assists) will look to take up the offensive slack.
Finally, rounding out the day will be the GW girls playing Hedgesville a half hour after Hurricane finishes up.
The Patriots (15-5-2) lost seven starters from last year’s squad, but Kanawha Valley Girls Coach of the Year Ali Sadeghian guided his team back behind a trio of explosive scorers in junior Kalissa Lacy (20 goals, 26 assists), sophomore Linsey Hackney (28 goals, 20 assists) and freshman Ava Trethewey (19 goals, 14 assists).
The Class AA-A girls title game will start first on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. with the boys Class AAA game beginning at 10:30. The boys championship game in Class AA-A will go off 45 minutes after the girls game ends and vice versa with the Class AAA girls.
HD Media’s Derek Redd contributed to this report.