Sarah Snider remembers the ache after Bridgeport lost to Ritchie County in the 2001 regional finals. She felt the pain of two knee surgeries last season and watched from the bench as the Indians fell again, one game shy of Charleston.
After seeing two opportunities slip away, Bridgeport's lone senior finally has her chance to play in the state tournament. The Indians, along with South Harrison, ended droughts with regional championships last week. Both remain in contention for state titles.
Bridgeport (21-4) plays No. 4 Petersburg (21-2) in the first round of the Class AA tournament at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Charleston Civic Center. The Indians have been to the regional finals in four of the last five years but broke through with a victory over Lewis County last week for their first trip to the state tournament since 2000.
South Harrison (19-6) plays Moorefield (9-15) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the Class A tournament. The Hawks defeated Hundred last week for the regional title and advance to Charleston for the first time since 1996.
"Any time you get in the state tournament, it puts your program on the map," South Harrison coach Joe Johnson said. "Whether or not you stay on the map depends on your feeder system. Your feeder system makes your program."
Snider was a freshman on the 2001 Bridgeport team that was undefeated and ranked No. 1 the entire season until falling to No. 2 Ritchie County in the regional championship. She tore her ACL before last season started and then tore the meniscus in her knee in a comeback attempt and played just five games.
"It was really hard to sit there and watch my team and not get to play at all," she said. "Everybody told me I should quit so I could walk some day. But I felt like I had to play."
Bridgeport coach Dave Marshall counts on Snider to spark the Indians defense and transition game and also for leadership. With just one senior and one junior (Emily Carmichael) on his roster, his team's composure has impressed him so far during postseason play.
"There's going to be a lot of distractions for the kids," Marshall said. "We saw some of that against Lewis County. We've got to keep our focus on the game. We grew up last week. Most of these kids aren't just November-to-March basketball players."
Of Bridgeport's four regular-season losses, one came at Big 10 rival Lewis County. The other three were against AAA teams -- one to John Marshall and two to East Fairmont. It has relied on a stingy defense and sharp perimeter shooting the entire year.
The Indians defense allowed just 33.7 points a game, tops in the Big 10 and Harrison County. Lewis County's top two scorers, Kristen Golden and Jaime Parker, were held to a combined three points in the regional finals.
"In high school, if you can play defense, you're going to be in the game," Marshall said. "We've proven that. Even the games we lost -- John Marshall is humongous, and East Fairmont is tremendously quick. I think we just had it in our minds that we couldn't beat them."
To help fight some of South Harrison's distractions, Johnson will take his team down to Charleston early on Thursday to watch some of the earlier games and get used to the atmosphere. He hopes his team can practice at Robert C. Byrd, site of its regional championship victory, before Thursday.
"At least they'll get to go in and out of the place," Johnson said of the Civic Center. "It won't be like going straight in and playing. Playing at Byrd helps a lot because of that depth perception difference. The biggest thing will be the break in routine from what the girls do at home."
Staci Skinner, Jennalea Rose and Stephanie Devericks have given the Hawks an inside presence the entire season, including in the regional victory over Hundred. Devericks scored eight of the team's 10 points in a critical fourth-quarter run.
Like Marshall, Johnson also is relying on his senior leadership of Skinner, Rose and Kayla Lewis both on and off the court. Johnson concedes it's easy to get caught up in the atmosphere of the state tournament.
"It's a whirlwind," he said. "It can happen to players, and it can happen to coaches. Hopefully, having three seniors will help. How far that will take us -- you have to consider the talent level. We'll see a jump in talent level."
Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at email@example.com.