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Golden Bears earn top seed

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Morgan Poling knows a thing or two about winning volleyball state titles. After all, she won three of them as a player at Oak Glen. Now, six years removed from the last title, her and the Golden Bears return to the state capital — this time with her as the head coach.

“I think when you go down there, it is a lot of emotions,” the first-year coach said. “I think that, from me being a player and playing in three state final games, I can definitely help try to calm their nerves and let them know what to expect. I will try my best to give them the best advice I can.”

Oak Glen has had a remarkable season, sitting at a perfect 35-0 and earning the No. 1 seed in Class AA with the sectional and regional titles already in the bag. The journey to a potential seventh title begins today.

“The feeling going down there is excitement,” Poling said. “When you are going to the state tournament, the expectation of course, is to win, but our game plan all year has been to take it one game at a time. I think that is our focus right now. I think anytime a team is undefeated or the No. 1 seed there is always a little bit of pressure, but we have done a really good job of handling that pressure so far this season. We tell the girls to relax and have fun. That is what it is all about.”

The Golden Bears open with No. 8 Independence, then, with a win, will face the winner of No. 5 Point Pleasant and No. 4 Bridgeport. Should the Golden Bears win both games, they will advance to Saturday’s state title match.

The other side of the bracket pits No. 7 Robert C. Byrd against No. 2 Shady Spring and No. 6 Winfield against No. 3 Philip Barbour — whom the Golden Bears defeated in five sets in the regional final last week — with the winners squaring off for a birth in the final. The Class AA final is the third match on Saturday morning, following the finals in Class AAA and A. The action begins at 9:30 a.m.

“There are eight teams left in AA and they are all good competition,” Poling said. “You don’t get to the state tournament without being a good team. Bridgeport, Shady Spring, Philip Barbour, Point Pleasant and us are some of the top teams in the state.

That experience of playing Philip Barbour and in the sectional and regional tournaments is something Poling thinks will help the Golden Bears.

“One of the top teams in the state is Philip Barbour, and we played them in the regional final, and only one by two points in the fifth set,” she said. “Being in that moment, seeing we’re not the only top team in the state, it has given us some extra motivation going into this weekend. It was exciting for them. The seniors have been battling back and forth with (Philip Barbour) for four years now. Getting to this moment and overcoming and overcoming different teams you have lost to in the past is a great feeling, however, they know Philip Barbour isn’t backing down. We have to be ready if we face them again.”

What has made the Golden Bears so dangerous is the closeness of the bunch and the team mentality they share.

“We have put a lot of time into talking about teamwork,” Poling said. “We talk a lot about embracing our roles. I think that has played a huge part in our success this season. We don’t rely on just one person. In the game of volleyball, you can’t rely on one person. I’m a firm believer that one person doesn’t make a team, so the key has definitely been every person embracing their role and getting the job done.

“They are best friends on and off the court. They do everything together.”

Another factor is the work the girls have put in on a daily basis.

“We have put a lot of time and a lot of effort into preaching about putting max effort into everything,” Poling said. “It’s what we do in our gym daily.

“We have community behind us and it’s been exciting times at Oak Glen high school.”

(Grimm can be reached at agrimm@heraldstaronline.com)