THE PRESS BOX FOR NOV. 7
Every once in a while something great happens in local sports. This past week was one of those once-in-a-whiles. The West Virginia Region I Section I high school volleyball tournament was held at Tyler Consolidated High School with Magnolia, Tyler Consolidated and Paden City all hoping to win the event. St. Marys and Ritchie County were also in the mix.
Starting on Monday, Oct. 29 and ending on that Wednesday, the double elimination tournament looked to be up for grabs with the Wildcats, the Rebels, and the Silver Knights all hoping to bring down the top seed Blue Eagles from New Martinsville.
After two days of some top-notch Class A volleyball, the last two standing were the Silver Knights of Tyler Consolidated and the Magnolia Blue Eagles. This was the start of what may have been the best sporting event I’ve seen since 1975 when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier faced off for the third time in their careers, in one of the most brutal heavyweight fights of all time – that became known as the Thrilla in Manila.
Ali won the series 2-1 with a TKO after the 14th round. It was an event like none other. It was a real life Rocky. Frazier never recovered. Ali was battered and beaten, and barely able to stand. The boxing match is regarded by most as the best in boxing history.
I have watched some great sporting events in my time, but what I witnessed this past week stands right up there with the best of them. Several years ago, if someone would have told me I would enjoy watching girls play sports, I would have said they were nuts. That, however, has changed big time!
On Tuesday, Oct. 30, Tyler Consolidated was paired up against Magnolia in a semi-final match of the sectional tournament. The Silver Knights, a senior-laden team that had lost to the Blue Eagles twice in the regular season, jumped on the Eagles early to take the match, winning 3-4 sets and setting up Wednesday’s finals. Magnolia, the number one seed and the favorite, was now in a position where it had to defeat the Silver Knights two times on Wednesday to become the sectional champs.
Playing on Tyler’s home floor and before a nice crowd from both schools, the 6 p.m. Wednesday night start got under way right on time. Early on it looked as though it was going to be a long night. Set one set the tone for the entire night as neither team could seem to put the other away. Diving and hitting the floor, hustling for every loose ball, and making saves like I’ve never seen in the sport. Serving up hard jump serves and returning downed spikes frequently, it seemed as though it would not end.
The excitement was electric. With the score tied 23-23, it was point for point the next 10 scores. Tied at 33, the Silver Knights got two straight to take the set 35-33. It was a set that took nearly 40 minutes.
Magnolia came right back in set two to get a close win and tie the match at one each. Tyler won set three to take a 2-1 advantage. With each set going right down to the wire, the excitement continued to build. This was high school volleyball at its best.
Set four of match one was a knock down, drag out affair with kill after kill and block after block. Magnolia, who has two of the hardest hitters in the state, was hammering down thunder on the Knights, who battled the storm with some fury of their own. However, in the end, Magnolia got the win on a hard straight down kill to tie the series 2-2 after nearly two hours of volleyball.
Set five in the match was the pivotal one. If the Knights win, they are the champs. If the Blue Eagles win, they must do it all over again to gain the championship. The tension was building as the teams warmed up. The Blue Eagles managed to take the hard fought match by winning the last set, but the night was long from over.
After sitting through the first match, I will be honest with you, my hope was it would end in three sets. I was ready to go home, and I didn’t care who won. Nothing was going to top the match I just witnessed. Wrong again! Match two turned into another marathon. A five set marathon.
With the Silver Knights up, two sets to one, and holding a 19-9 lead in set four, it looked like lights out for the Blue Eagles. That’s when Magnolia dug deep and came up with a run to draw to 20-15. The Knights got a point and led 21-15, but Magnolia came back strong and scored six straight to tie the affair at 21. The Blue Eagles then scored four points to the Knights’ one and took set four in comeback fashion to tie the match at 2-2, again setting up set five.
Despite some great volleyball to this point, the best was yet to come. Starting with a 2-0 lead, the set then went point for point. Exchanging leads until it was tied at 14; that’s when Magnolia put the icing on the cake with two straight points to take set five and the match, to come away as the sectional champions. Total time on the court for these high school girl athletes was nearly four and a half hours of non-stop action.
Most of the talk this week has been about Magnolia’s win over Wheeling Central, the number one undefeated team and West Virginia’s big win over Texas. I say the most exciting sports I’ve seen in years was Wednesday’s battle of two Class A volleyball giants. The teams played again on Saturday, at Ritchie County, for the Regional Crown with the Blue Eagles again topping the Knights; however, both schools will be in Charleston this weekend for the state tournament and could more than likely meet, once more, for the final time this season. Let’s hope it’s in the championship match on Saturday.
Both schools have a lot to look forward to this week. The Blue Eagles and Silver Knights are both in the Class A football playoffs and will be on the road in the first round. Although both teams will be battling higher-ranked foes, anything can happen and usually does. Don’t count either one of them out.
Another great sporting event occurred on September 11, 1985. I got to witness live Pete Rose’s 4,192nd career hit at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. The hit broke Ty Cobb’s long-standing record for most career hits. Rose’s teammates all came out of the dugout to celebrate, and Rose was presented a new Corvette with the license plate “PR 4192.”
Rose finished his career with 4,256 hits, which is still a MLB record with no real challenger in sight. In reality, the two great professional events I’ve mentioned are probably the greatest sports events I’ve ever seen. But this past week’s volleyball effort by the two high schools brought back some great memories and feelings. Keep up the hard work girls; that’s the kind of excitement which keeps high school sports alive and well. firstname.lastname@example.org