Ohio Valley’s Volleyball Mecca
PADEN CITY – Magnolia, Tyler Consolidated and Paden City; three schools steeped in rich athletic history and success, especially when factoring in pre-consolidation Sistersville and Tyler County.
Like most Class A schools, each has battled against declining enrollment whilst trying to maintain that success on the fields and courts.
There are successes, there are failures and the consistency of success that each school had grown accustomed, while mostly intact, isn’t quite up to the standard it used to be.
That is, except for volleyball.
That small, two-county section just south of West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle just may be the mecca of volleyball in the Mountain State, and certainly in the Ohio Valley.
These three schools comprise three-fifths of Class A’s Region One, Section Two, making it possibly the most difficult section in the state, regardless of class.
They battle against one another and on occasion for players as Paden City’s town limits straddles both Wetzel and Tyler Counties.
A car starting at Paden City High School needs to travel fewer than 27 miles to get to Tyler Consolidated, then Magnolia and finally back to PCHS’ parking lot.
Proximity and familiarity are in abundance. Success on the volleyball court has followed suit.
Since the 2012 season, only twice (’16 and ’17) has the Class A state final not featured one of these three teams.
Historically, Magnolia has four state titles and five runner-up finishes while Tyler Consolidated has won one and lost four title matches.
Paden City, while never capturing a state title, has the most conference success with five OVAC championships to its credit. Magnolia and Tyler each have one, though to be fair to the Silver Knights, they are no longer in the OVAC.
Consider this string of events.
Magnolia and Tyler both advanced out of the sectional and regional tournament in 2018, meeting for the seventh time in the Class A title match. The Blue Eagles were victorious.
The following season? With all but one player returning (two if you include injured all-state junior Maddie Winters), Magnolia didn’t even make it out of the sectional. This despite the fact that the Eagles beat eventual champion Wirt County during the regular season.
This season, it was Paden City’s turn, capturing its first regional championship in school history before falling to Wirt County in the Class A finale.
The 2018 season, it was the Wildcats who, equally as talented as this season with a slightly younger team, couldn’t make it out of the sectional.
“We had a really good year last year, then got to the sectionals and shut down. I think it was a lack of experience on the big stage,” Paden City coach Jennifer Yeater said of the 2018 season. “We had to be mentally ready for this season. That fueled that fire and we were able to win that regional and get to the (state championship).
“It was a huge win for us.”
Yeater, a former PC standout herself, is in her second season as varsity coach at her alma mater, taking over for and raising the bar from the already high standard set by her predecessor, Fred King.
Her cross-county counterparts, Pam Chapman at Magnolia and the husband-wife tandem of Richard and Tracy Summers at Tyler each have 20-plus years at their respective schools.
In fact, Richard Summers picked up his 500th victory against Williamstown. In 2016.
All three coaches echoed the sentiment that advancing out of their section is akin to the difficulty of a state championship match, given the competition. The last few years, it’s featured some of Class A’s top players and three of the top five teams in the state.
To say the eventual winner is battle tested is an understatement.
The better question is why? What about the small patch of geography that makes each team excel at volleyball, year in and out.
“It’s not like say soccer or softball, where the girls start playing when they are five for six. We have camps, but the first time the girls play organized volleyball isn’t until junior high,” Summers noted.
Richard and Tracy Summers got into coaching because their daughter Shannon sparked an interest in the sport. They began on the junior high level together and moved up to varsity together.
That started a string of successive winning seasons that has the Summers duo at 500-plus wins and counting. They have multiple first-team all staters and, in 2013, senior and Marshall signee Cameron Yoho was named Gatorade and WVSWA State Player of the Year.
“I think consistency is important, but the bar has been set high and the girls know what to expect and work hard,” Summer said. “And they do love their volleyball here.”
Consistency and hard work are also the name of the game at Magnolia.
Chapman played both softball and volleyball during her time at West Liberty.
Her husband Dave, the current Blue Eagles head football coach, was a standout football player who had a stint with the New England Patriots.
Their daughters, Mallory and Kelsi, both first team all-state honors in volleyball. Mallory played softball for the Cardinals while Kelsi is currently on the women’s basketball team.
Pam Chapman was named the WVSSAC Volleyball Coach of the Year in 2013.
“We had a good season, but there are no guarantees and you have to give Paden City credit, they played well against us,” Chapman said in regard to the sectional, this despite the fact that Magnolia had also beat Paden City twice during the regular season.
Magnolia and Tyler have only been in Class A since the previous classifications for the WVSSAC came out. Prior to, they held their multi-yearly battles in the Class AA level, again, in the same section and in a region that features Class AA power Oak Glen.
Despite declining enrollment and classification, both teams still play premier, practically AAA schedules.
“Our scheduling has never changed,” Summers said.
“We still play a Class AAA schedule and try to prepare ourselves against the best competition.”
A Class AAA mentality is what Coach Yeater has tried to instill at Paden City.
While her and her husband are both graduates of Paden City, they eventually moved to Hedgesville, where their oldest daughter Makenzie graduated from and eldest son Zach started.
They returned to the valley to help take care of aging family members and Jennifer immediately stepped in as the junior high volleyball coach as her daughter Mallory, now a first team all-stater as a junior, was set to play.
“My children grew up in AAA-sized schools in a competitive market,” Jennifer Yeater said. “You had to work a lot in the offseason, you had tryouts, you had to have a good work ethic and work hard and I tried to bring that and instill it here.
“We had to take our game to the next level and play a more disciplined, strategic game and get mentally tough.”
Mission accomplished for the Wildcats. They had their best season and return their top two players in current juniors Mallory Yeater and Hope Weber. Weber was named first team all-state for the second season in a row after being second-team as a freshman.
Tyler will return second-teamer Reagan Smith next season for her senior year. Magnolia loses first-teamer Kyndra Pilant and second teamer Kayna Anderson.
Winters should be back and the Blue Eagles had a bevy of underclassmen that should keep the tradition going for years to come.