NEW MANCHESTER - The Oak Glen volleyball team is looking to make school history.
Oak Glen will look to win its third straight state title this weekend as the Golden Bears are the two-time defending state champions. Oak Glen has won five state titles in school history, including back-to-back state titles in the late 1990s, but the Golden Bears have never won three straight state titles.
The Golden Bears made their final preparations Wednesday morning before heading to the Charleston Civic Center for the West Virginia Class AA State Volleyball Tournament, which will be held Friday and Saturday.
SPEAKING UP — Above, Golden Bears players, from left, Jessica Hutton, Vanessa Hissam, Jessica Stivason and Carissa Williams talk during a recent match.
-- Staff Photo
Oak Glen will open play in the state tournament at 8:30 a.m. Friday against Clay County.
"I know nothing about Clay County," Oak Glen head coach Ethel Riser said. "I did not contact anybody about them."
The Golden Bears enter the match with a record of 39-5-2. The Panthers are 34-11 on the season.
"I saw their record, but I don't know who they have played or anything," Riser said. "Whoever they have played, it is not at the level that we have played. I am not really concerned about what they are going to do. I'm sure we will be able to handle whatever they throw at us. We will be to adjust to what they are doing.
"As long as we play our game, we will be on top of everything."
The Golden Bears have not lost a game in the postseason. Oak Glen swept East Fairmont, Weir and Fairmont Senior en route to winning the Region 1, Section 1 championship. Then, Oak Glen swept Ravenswood and Ritchie County to win the regional championship.
The Golden Bears have won 10 straight matches heading into the state tournament. Oak Glen opened the season with 17 straight victories before losing to Edison in the first match of a tri-match Sept. 19 at the Oak Glen Fieldhouse. Oak Glen responded to defeat Wellsville in its second match of the tri.
The Wildcats are the lone OVAC team to defeat the Golden Bears this season. Edison was three points away from completing the season sweep against Oak Glen, but the Golden Bears rallied to win the final three games of the match to defeat the Wildcats in five games Sept. 26 at Edison.
Oak Glen went to win the OVAC Class 4A regular season and tournament titles this season. The Golden Bears have been hard at work at practice this week since winning the regional title Saturday.
"Practice has been fine," Riser said. "We haven't been doing anything different. We are doing the same things we always do. We are doing the same drills. We are doing the same routine.
"It it is not broke, why fix it?
"We are working on our passing game. The passing game is important. Everything comes from that. If you can't pass the ball, you can't do the rest.
"We are working on whatever we need to work on."
Riser and the Golden Bears are comfortable with the early start time to the match against the Panthers.
"We practice at 8 a.m. every Saturday when we don't have a tournament to go to," Riser said. "The girls come in early during the summer. We are early birds.
"We are in and out. For us, playing at 8:30 is not a big deal."
In the other semifinal in Session 1, Philip Barbour will play Independence.
The winners of the two Session 1 Quarterfinals will play in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m.
The Golden Bears enter the state tournament healthy.
"Everybody is fine," Riser said. "Everybody is healthy, knock on wood.
"We are going to have one more practice before we go down. We are going to keep working hard.
"If we play well, we should be fine."
Session 2 will begin with Herbert Hoover taking on Ritchie County at 1:30 p.m. That match will be followed by the match between Westside and Robert C. Byrd.
The winner of the two Session 2 Quarterfinals will meet in the second semifinal match of the night.
The first three sessions will all be held on Court 3.
The state finals will be held Saturday on Center Court. The Class AAA Final is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. The Class A Final will follow. The Class AA Final will be the final match of the day.
"I think we played early last year," Riser said. "The time is not going to be a factor.
"I'd rather play early. You get in and out. That way, nerves don't set in."
The Golden Bears are led on and off of the court by the team's four seniors - Carissa Williams, Morgan Poling, Vanessa Hissam and Jessica Hutton.
"Most of the girls have been here before," Riser said. "We have some girls who were with us last year. They didn't get to play, but they saw the show.
The Golden Bears have advanced to the state final eight times in program history. Oak Glen is 5-3 in the championship game.
Oak Glen has won state titles in 1997, 1998, 2008, 2011 and 2012.
"We had a good group of girls," Riser said about the teams that won the back-to-back state titles in 1997-98. "We had six seniors who graduated, and all six started.
"We had a drop off after that, but we have come back on. We were runner up a couple of times, and then we won it in 2008."
This group of girls is looking to do what that group was unable to do and that is to complete the three-peat.
"In some ways, this group is better," Riser said. "They are real close. They are close to one another. They are all about the team. It is not, 'me, me, me.'
"They work as a team. They play as a team. Volleyball has changed a lot since then. We had some hard hitters back then, but it is nothing like it is today.
"We had some awesome players back then. We thought we had some hard hitters, but we didn't have any kids who hit the ball like they do today. The way the girls hit the ball today, they just fire the ball. The ball comes off of their hand fast. They hit it with a lot of speed.
"I'd like to be able to find out just how fast they are hitting the ball. They hit it hard. It just flies by you.
"It is hard to compare them.
Oak Glen won a state title in softball in 1998, and the Golden Bears won a state title in girls' basketball in 1999 by defeating Tolsia, 67-33.
Three of Oak Glen state title victories in volleyball came against Ritchie County. The Golden Bears defeated the Rebels in the state finals in 1997, 2011 and 2012.
In 1998, Oak Glen defeated Wirt County in the state final, and Oak Glen defeated James Monroe to win the state title in 2008.
The Golden Bears finished as runner up in 1980, 2000 and 2006.
Parkersburg defeated Oak Glen in 1980 in the first state volleyball tournament.
Wirt County defeated Oak Glen in 2000, and Winfield defeated Oak Glen in the championship game in 2006.
Wirt County is the last school to win at least three straight state titles in volleyball. The Tigers won four straight titles from 2005-08.
"We have never done it before," Riser said. "It is pretty hard to do. Last year, we lost four super seniors. They were all key players. They all started.
"This year, we have four more seniors who will graduate. They did not all start last year.
"The girls have stepped up to the plate this year. They have done what has been needed to be done.
"I think it can happen. There is definitely a possibility we can be state champs again. That would be the first time in school history we have done that.
"It would be the first time in school history any program other than wrestling has done that. Larry Shaw did a great job with the wrestling program."
The Golden Bears won 13 straight state titles in wrestling from 1997 through 2009.
"It is exciting to be at the state tournament," Riser said. "It is exciting, especially for the younger girls. There is a lot of excitement the first time. You never forget the first time. The rest is all icing on the cake.
"You never forget the first time, whether you are a player, a coach or a parent watching your kid play for and win in a state title for the first time.
"I remember winning our first state title. I remember what that feeling was. I will never forget that feeling. Winning the other state titles has been great, but I will never forget the first one."