Golden Bears capture 3rd straight state championship

CHARLESTON – Ethel Riser didn’t visit a fortune teller the day before the state volleyball ball tournament, nor did she have her palm read. She didn’t find a genie in a bottle and there was no special message in her tea leaves.

The legendary Oak Glen volleyball coach just had a strong feeling about the outcome of the West Virginia Class AA championship on Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center.

“There was no doubt in my mind,” Riser said. “I knew before we even started. It’s this team, they’ve practiced and worked so hard and they play how they practice. I’m so proud of the way they delivered and came through.

The Golden Bears downed Herbert Hoover in straight sets, 25-18, 25-11, 25-14 for their third-straight state championship.

“It’s awesome,” Riser said. “To be able to make school history is quite an accomplishment.”

Oak Glen has previously won state titles in 1997, 1998, 2008, 2011 and 2012 – all under Riser’s guidance.

“She’s an awesome coach,” said senior Vanessa Hissam. “I love playing for her, we all do.”

But even with her sky-high confidence, Riser still wasn’t ready to celebrate until the final ball dropped for game point in the final match.

Emmy Delekta was serving as the Golden Bears sat with a 24-14 lead. After a dig and set, Hoover’s Hannah King tried to kill the ball for a point, instead it flew over Delekta’s head out of bounds.

“When the last ball was being served my assistant coach put the stats book down,” Riser said. “I said, ‘What are you doing?’ She said, Don’t worry, I’ll remember. That was game point, no doubt about that one, and it’s one will remember forever.

Hissam, along with Carissa Williams, Morgan Poling and Jessica Hutton round out the most successful senior class in school history.

“I think this one has to be the most special,” Hissam said. “It’s for the seniors. We made volleyball history at the school for being the first team to earn a three-peat. It’s special. It’s something no one can take away from us and something we’ll remember forever.”

Hissam, along with Poling and Alex Arnott, were named to the all-tournament team.

“I’m definitely not at the peak I want to be at but I’ve improved so much,” said Poling, a Fairmont State recruit. “It’s been an amazing ride with these seniors and my teammates. It’s bittersweet, but I’m excited for the future.”

Added Williams, “It’s been emotional. This one means so much because we’re the leaders of this team. We all worked so hard for this and earned it. I’d feel so bad if we let this one go and didn’t win it.”

Frankly, it was in the bag from the beginning.

After scoring the first two points of Game 1, the Golden Bears rattled off six-straight points to hold an 8-3. They never trailed in the first set, despite a four-point run by the Huskies, and maintained at least at five-point lead after the scored hit double digits.

In Game 2, Hoover scored first but Oak Glen rallied to take a 9-4 lead. After that, four three-point rallies helped seal it.

“We never want to get to cocky,” Poling said. “Anything can happen at anytime and we’re always on our toes.”

The Golden Bears jumped out to a 3-0 lead which expanded to 17-9 before the championship was sealed.

“It builds your confidence,” Poling said of gaining large leads, which has been characteristic of Oak Glen all season, “but it also lets you know that the game is not over until the score hits 25.”

The Golden Bears finish the season at 42-5-2, only one loss came to a fellow AA school, the other three came by AAA programs.

“We play a tough schedule to prepare us for this big stage,” Riser said.

The Civic Center Court isn’t like the normal hardwood gym floor. It’s color-coated to perfectly distinguish what’s in and what’s out, but it’s also made of rubber-like material.

Even with two trips to the state tournament under its belt, Oak Glen also played in the Charleston Capital Tournament earlier in the season.

“We were definitely familiar with the court,” Hissam said. “We had a feel for it. We move our feet and everybody on the team is pretty quick so we never really have to dive that much.”

Even with a large brace on her right leg, Hutton showed no signs of pain and played for most of the match – like she has for the entire postseason. Two months ago, she suffered an ACL tear, as well as meniscus cartilage damage. She missed about four weeks, but knew she couldn’t miss her final run on the court.

“It means so much,” she said. “We wanted this since Day 1. The three-peat was always on our mind.”

Poling totaled nine kills, nine blocks, eight points and six digs. Williams added 10 points and 20 assists. Hissam contributed eight kills, six digs and five points and Hutton four kills and a block.

Arnott added 10 kills, Jessica Stivason seven blocks, six points, five kills and five digs, Madison Juszczak six kills and four points, Delekta eight assists, five points and two digs and Kenzie Rosenlieb six assists and two digs.

In Class A, Wirt County defeated Tyler Consolidated in five sets, while Mussleman handled Greenbrier East in four sets in Class AAA action.