WHEELING-After coming ever so close to defeating one of West Virginia's premier Class A basketball powers in the 2012 girls' state championship game, Wheeling Central hopes for another shot at it this season.
The Maroon Knights trailed Huntington St. Joseph by three points and possession of the basketball with 50 seconds to go before before a turnover pierced their upset bubble inside the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.
Six quality seniors graduated from that talented 23-4 team but Central can count on two first-team All-Valley players as rocks for Coach Penn Kurtz to build another state title contender.
Back for their senior year are three-year letter-winners Emily Bucon and Colleen McCormick. The 5-foot-7 Bucon also earned All-West Virginia Class A first-team laurels after an excellent junior season in which she averaged 14.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
Usually at her best in big games, Bucon scored a career high 34 points as the Maroon Knights defeated Class AAA rival Wheeling Park in a double-overtime thriller.
At the outset of practice, Bucon took away suspense about her collegiate basketball when she committed to join Coach Lynn Ullom's program at West Liberty University.
While Bucon was dominating outside, her classmate McCormick was taking care of business inside. The long-armed 5-11 post performer averaged 13.7 points and 10.1 rebounds. She also was a standout on the defensive end of the court with her shot-blocking ability.
McCormick was captain of the all-state second team and earned All-OVAC laurels. McCormick is still undecided about her college plans.
''Emily and Colleen are very solid fundamental players with great skills offensively and defensively,'' Kurtz, who begins his 20th season, said. ''Both are excellent leaders and worked as hard this summer as any incoming seniors I've coached here.
''Both of them are strong rebounders. Emily runs the floor exceptionally well and is one of the most versatile players around. Colleen averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds two years ago as a sophomore. She has stepped up her game ever since her freshman season. She's very strong playing with her back to the basket and she also can step out occasionally and nail a 3-pointer.''
Central's success at filling the other three starting positions will be the key to the upcoming season.
Expected to join McCormick underneath is junior Madison Basinger (5-10), while the other two guards are expected to be senior Beth Stayduhar (5-6) and junior Maria Collier (5-4). Basinger is being counted to provide additional rebounding strength. Stayduhar helped out coming off the bench last year while Collier played mostly jayvee ball.
Also battling for starting positions are juniors Ashton Cross (5-6), Delaney Denniston (5-6), McKenzie Michael (5-10 and sophomores Regan Blaha (5-9), Sydney Bennington (5-8), Cara Stahl (5-4) and Julianna Ryan 5-4).
Cassie Sorge, a four-year starter for the Maroon Knights, was joined on the graduation list by Bri Robbins, Julia Palmer, Ashley Martin, Angela Sparachane and Emily Wizba. Sorge, Robbins and Palmer were key contributors as starters during the state championship run while Martin, Sparachane and Wizba also had their moments off the bench.
With so many new faces in the lineup, the Maroon Knights may well struggle due to their difficult first-month schedule. Central Catholic gets an early look at the four-time defending state champion Huntington St. Joe squad when they hook up in the opening round of the Williamstown Tipoff Tournament on Dec. 7.
Upcoming in the month is a home game against perennial Ohio small school power Shadyside, two games in the John Marshall tournament along with with another trip into Marshall County to play the Lady Monarchs four days later.
After hosting Charleston Catholic three days before Christmas, Central then takes part in the annual Undo's Catholic Holiday Classic on Dec. 28-29 at Wheeling Jesuit University's McDonough Center.
''We will find out a lot about ourselves during the first month,'' Kurtz stressed. ''And our schedule doesn't get any easier the rest of the way with two games against Wheeling Park and a trip to St. Marys which is loaded again this year.''
The Maroon Knights' basketball coaching staff also includes Bob Robinson, Suzie Dailer, Paul Kurtz and Lyndsey Ammirante.
Dec. 4: at Magnolia 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 7-8: at Williamstown Tournament TBA
Dec. 12: Shadyside 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 14-15: at John Marshall Tournament TBA
Dec. 19: at John Marshall 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 22: Charleston Catholic 3 p.m.
Dec. 28-29: Undo's Tournament TBA
Jan. 3: Magnolia 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 7: at St. Marys 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 10: Linsly 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 19: Trinity Christian 4:30 p.m.
Jan. 22: at Shadyside 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 25: at Charleston Catholic TBA
Jan. 26: at Sissonville TBA
Jan. 29: at Wheeling Park 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 1: at Linsly 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 4-9: OVAC Tournament TBA
Feb. 13: Wheeling Park 7:30 p.m.