Sunday's Lady Pioneer send-off celebration was a
light-hearted event. I.L. (Ike) Morris (right) jokes
around and local attorney Tim Butcher (center), Miranda
Reed (far left) and Donita Adams join in the laughter

(Photos by Drew Moody)

By Drew Moody
Special for the Hur Herald

The final legacy of the 2006-2007 Glenville State College Lady Pioneers basketball team officially began Monday. They are one of just eight teams in the United States that will vie for the nation's highest collegiate basketball honor, the Elite Eight NCAA Division II National Women's Basketball Championship in Kearney, Nebraska.

Two chartered planes began separate journeys. The team traveled in one provided by the NCAA, leaving Charleston at noon Monday. The other plane, chartered by a group of loyal fans, will leave Clarksburg Tuesday morning offering their support during the championship.

Team member Donita Adams' mother will be leaving from Maryland. She said Sunday it's been awhile since she's seen her mother and is anxious for a reunion.

Head coach Steve Harold said Monday morning, most if not all, of the Lady Pioneer parents are joining the team in Nebraska.

The tournament may take on the feel of a family reunion during after-game hours.

The celebration was a "family affair," as fans and family
gathered to wish the Lady Pioneers well on their efforts
to win the Elite Eight NCAA National Championship. Joe Evans,
(left) visits with Lauren Strong, Karina Kendrick, assistant
Lady Pioneer coach Dennis Fitzpatrick and Christine DiSabato

Fans of the Lady Pioneers have become an extended family for the team. Opponents who have witnessed the local fan support first hand have been quoted as saying at no time during their four-year college basketball careers have they witnessed the overwhelming support Glenville fans give the team.

Coach Harold's sister, Anita, is making the journey. Their father, Charlie, said he'd made a commitment to attend the 100-year celebration of Hardman's Home Center stores months ago. "I said I'd be there," the retired Hardman's store manager said. Anyone acquainted with Mr. Harold wouldn't be surprised at his steadfastness relative to 'keeping his word.'

He quietly laughed at the irony of that promise, but was good-humored about it, despite that it cuts him and Martha (his wife) out of making the journey to Nebraska.

Some fans are driving, and a few determined souls are finding low airfares despite the late date. One individual booked a $497 round-trip ticket early Monday morning leaving Pittsburgh Tuesday for Grand Island, NE., about 50 miles from Kearney.

Depending on how determined a buyer is, a ticket could cost well over $1,000. But Internet savvy individuals can still find "deals."

There are virtually no motel rooms available in Kearney. Rooms in the nearest city are filling fast.

Considering the interest and crowds attracted to past tournaments, it's possible by Saturday accommodations may be scarce within 200-miles of Kearney.

The Lady Pioneers had a Monday afternoon practice scheduled, following their arrival.

An Upbeat Send-Off Celebration on Sunday

The Lady Pioneers gathered at Glenville State College President Peter Barr and his wife Betsy's home prior to festivities beginning at the Alan B. Mollohan Center.

The team was surprised by a call from Governor Joe Manchin III. A speaker-phone permitted all present to hear his encouraging and upbeat well wishes.

"You make West Virginia proud," the Governor said. "I am so proud of all of you."

When the Lady Pioneers return home they have a standing invitation to visit the Governor's mansion.

"After this is all over, Pete, (Dr. Barr) I need for you to bring them all to the mansion."

"Thank you all!

The team echoed a room filling "Thank You" to the Governor.

The team subsequently entered the Mollohan Center to the applause of approximately 100 people in attendance. The celebration was a joint effort by the college, community and Lady Pioneer fans.

Dr. Peter Barr, left, President of Glenville State College welcomed Ed Hamrick, former vice-president at Glenville, to Sunday night's Lady Pioneer Celebration. Hamrick was formerly the WV Department of Natural Resources director during former Gov. Bob Wise's administration. He's been a consistent voice advocating clean environmental practices

Lady Pioneers Christine DiSabato, left, and Rachel Redick look like they're practicing a bit of "chip teamwork" as Christy Alltop watches

Dr. Peter Barr opened the informal ceremonies by thanking the community and fans for such steadfast support. "I'm very proud and on behalf of the college I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart."

Dr. Barr echoed what so many know about this team; this is a very special group of young women.

When head coach Steve Harold rose to speak he made special mention of the four senior members of the squad - Christy Alltop, Casey Taylor, Lauren Strong and Rachel Redick.

Beginning with Taylor, he said, "I'm so very proud of what Casey's done. Taylor deserves to be named an All-American."

Both she and Rachel Redick, already a three-time All-American, are among 35 finalists for NCAA Division II Kodak/WBCA All-America Basketball Team, and are now in the running for selection to the 10-member All-America Team.

The final selection is expected to be announced this week in Nebraska.

"We wouldn't be playing Wednesday if it wasn't for what Lauren's done." Strong is lead defensive nightmare of the Lady Pioneers. As a team, they possess the capability of intimidating opponents to the point of being overwhelmed.

"When she walks out the door, she (Lauren) may be the most difficult one to replace," Harold admitted.

All-around utility player and starting senior Christy Alltop is able to effectively fill whatever need arises. She's dangerous from three-point range, and typically adds her share of assists, rebounds and steals. Alltop has brought fans to their feet several times this season, often giving teammates a boost during lean stretches.

Harold said he could speak for hours about Rachel Redick's accomplishments.

Redick's peers have given her numerous honors this season. And there's no dispute she's one of the best college athletes in the country.

Among her accomplishments, she recently smashed previous West Virginia and WVIAC women's scoring records. She was named Player of the Year in both WVIAC and the NCAA East Region Division 2. Redick was also chosen as Most Valuable Player in both the WVIAC Championship and the NCAA East Region Division II Women's Basketball Championship.

"Rachel's always reminded me when she graduates she wants to be remembered," Harold told the crowd.

There's little doubt anyone will soon forget Rachel Redick.

Harold went on to compliment all the players, but called special attention to Karina Kendrick and Melanie Oliver. Like Casey Taylor, Kendrick has had an exceptionally strong second half of the season. During one recent game she racked up nine blocks, at times so forcefully stopping the upward movement of the player as they shot she knocked them to the floor.

"We wouldn't be playing as good as we do without Karina," Harold said. "This team is built on defense - Karina, I'm asking for it three more times."

Of Melanie Oliver, Harold said she was likely the most explosive athlete he's ever seen.

Oliver was selected as WVIAC Freshman of the Year, and was a member of the WVIAC Women's Basketball Championship All-Tournament Team. Several times during the season she earned double-double recognition for points and rebounds.

She plays aggressively, leading the conference in offensive rebounds. During a recent game she grabbed three offensive rebounds back-to-back and brought the crowd to its feet for her "never give up" effort.

Harold told the crowd Christine DiSabato and Mallory Menendez would play a crucial role in Nebraska, as well as remaining members of the squad: Donita Adams, Miranda Reed, and Casey Heller. He mentioned an early season game where Menendez came off the bench and scored 14 points in 1:45 seconds.

Mirroring the team effort are the latitude and responsibilities shared by assistant coach Dennis Fitzpatrick and John Nicolais. Typically they make all game substitutions while Harold makes strategic assessments. It's a good fit for all concerned.

A Great Team

"I think this team is going to bring home a championship," Harold told the crowd. Typically more reserved about publicly discussing future outcomes of contests, he admitted it gave him "chills" to make such a statement.

Harold is pleased with the match-up for Wednesday's game, and although facing an overall taller squad, he's confident the Lady Pioneers are much quicker.

"These are all great players, but most importantly they're a great team."

Repeatedly this season the Lady Pioneers have been able to compensate and adjust for each. If one is missing shots, another will step in to fill the void.

Harold has consistently maintained these young women know how to win and do so without concern for who gets credit, as the priority is making sure the Lady Pioneers come out on top.

There's good reason to be optimistic. The Lady Pioneers are entering the tournament with the best overall record (33-2), and are flush with two championship victories. They also are ranked No. 2 nationally while UC San Diego (26-4) are ranked No. 12.

Harold, his coaching staff, and the team are united in the quest to bring a national victory home to Glenville.

The Lady Pioneers quarterfinal match with UC San Diego is Wednesday, with tip-off scheduled for 1 p.m. CST at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.