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TIME TO GET ROWDIE: Morgantown girls host University for regional championship

MORGANTOWN — The Morgantown girls’ basketball team will host University on Wednesday in a Class AAAA Region I final, with the winner punching a ticket to Charleston.

Head coaches Jason White (Morgantown) and Nick Lusk (University) are polar-opposites when it comes to their experience at their respective schools. For Lusk, this is his first year at UHS, and it came in a season that saw a COVID surge, multiple weather cancellations or postponements, and his team losing some players mid-year. White experienced the same obstacles as Lusk this season, minus the player loss. However, White is in his final season at MHS, and won’t be returning after this season. He has also won multiple state titles, including three in a row from 2014-16.

Finding common ground among the two teams isn’t far off, as each roster shows some slight inexperience. Lusk has started three freshmen at times for UHS, and although White has a senior starter in Kerrington Peasak, she is the lone senior on the team. White has referred to her as his “coach on the court” and she is always vocal when on the bench. A handful of juniors (4) help Peasak lead the younger players like sophomore Sofia Wassick and freshman Sadaya Jones.

MHS finds itself with a record of 19-3 and ranked No. 2 in the final AP poll of the season. Despite the high ranking and being favored in most games, White wants to ensure his young team stays in the moment, especially coming into a high-intensity match-up like his team will see against UHS.

“We really try and stress preparation,” he said. “We use the old quote, ‘Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.’ So, we focus on our next game all season, never looking ahead. Then, on game night, we don’t focus on the outcome, we want to focus on the next possession because that’s the only one we can control in that moment.”

Focusing on what got them to this point of the season is what White said his team will need to do to be successful against their crosstown rival, and for MHS that is their defense. The Mohigans come into Wednesday night only allowing 35.2 ppg to their opponents on the season.

“We have to rebound and defend the ball for 32 minutes,” White said. “Not rushing to take the first look we have and being patient against their zone will be important.”

The Hawks come into the regional with a 9-10 record on the season. For Lusk and his young team, this season has been a back-and-forth as far as wins and losses. The trend has been for UHS to win a few games, then lose a few games. The season began strong as the first three games played for UHS were wins, their first coming against Parkersburg, which is now 18-6 on the season. Then, three straight losses came but would be followed by two more wins to bring the Hawks’ record to 5-3 going into a tough stretch of games that included MHS. They would lose all three but win against Bridgeport to start the “gauntlet week,” as Lusk put it.

After defeating Bridgeport on Monday of “gauntlet week,” UHS traveled to AAAA powerhouse Wheeling Park on Wednesday (Feb. 9), then hosted AAA top-ranked Fairmont Senior on Thursday (Feb. 10), where they only lost by four (47-43), and finally they welcomed the AAAA No. 1 team Huntington on Saturday (Feb. 12), where they again only lost by four (55-51). The latter results would help boost the Hawks going into the final week of their regular season, winning their final two games and their first sectional game.

“I think the biggest thing I will take away from the second half of the season is how we all came together and how we started playing well as a group,” Lusk said.

He knows how talented their opponents are in MHS, and for him, the expectations help relieve some of the pressure on the shoulders of his team.

“I don’t think the pressure is on us; let’s face it, other than our locker room, no one is expecting us to win,” Lusk said. “But I just continue to stress to them that we can play with anyone and we’ve proved it.”

In the two meetings this season, MHS has won both by an average of 26 points.

A loss by UHS to Buckhannon-Upshur in the sectional final is how we got to where we are now, and it would be hard to script this one. MHS versus UHS, with the winner punching their ticket to Charleston for the AAAA girls’ basketball state championship. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at MHS.

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