Practice paid off for state champ Bears

CHARLESTON – Three hours of dedication equaled three straight years of state championships.

While dominant through the regular season and tournaments, the Oak Glen volleyball team built its success on non-gamedays with strenuous workouts, constant conditioning and precise repetition.

“We practice hard all the time,” said senior Jessica Hutton. “We set up different stations and run, jump and hit. We do so much and it’s paid off.”

Ask Golden Bears coach Ethel Riser the secret to the success and she’ll give you a straight-forward answer. It’s not really a secret, at all. It’s just a strong work ethic that comes from within.

“We just stay focused,” Riser said. “They come here and they play the way they practice. They practice hard every day. Three hours a day, every day. I don’t care what day it is. We practice on holidays three hours a day.”

Not to mention 8 a.m. Saturday practices.

“It can be hard,” Hutton said, “but we know it’s for the best. Coach Riser knows what she’s doing and knows what she’s talking about.

“When she screams at you, you know what to do for the next time.”

Entering last Friday’s West Virginia Class AA state tournament in Charleston, Oak Glen won 10 straight matches. It hadn’t lost a postseason match, sweeping East Fairmont, Weir and Fairmont Senior en route to winning the Region 1, Section 1 championship. Then, Oak Glen swept Ravenswood and Ritchie County to win the regional championship.

“We had a lot of confidence,” said senior Vanessa Hissam. “We played great this entire year.”

The Golden Bears began the season with 17 straight wins and captured the OVAC regular season 4A title.

They swept Clay County in the quarterfinals and beat Philip Barbour in the semis.

“I think our experience really did help us out,” said senior Carissa Williams. “Everybody stepped up.”

She had 17 assists and 10 points in Friday’s action and added 10 points and 20 assists on Saturday in Oak Glen’s 25-18, 25-11, 25-14 win over Herbert Hoover in the championship.

“It’s literally everything,” said Hutton, who had four kills and a block in the championship game. “This means so much to us.”

That’s been the case throughout her four-year career.

“I remember on tryouts how excited everyone was,” Hutton said. “We knew it would take a lot of hard work to build something special at our school.”

Morgan Poling, bound for Fairmont State to play volleyball, led the Golden Bears with nine kills, nine blocks, eight points and six digs in the championship game.

“I just play my position the best that I can,” she said. “I like to dominate as much as possible.”

Hissam, Hutton, Poling and Williams depart Oak Glen as the most successful senior class in history. As six seniors graduated in 1999, they were coming off back-to-back state championship runs. From then until winning the title again in 2008, the Golden Bears were state runners-up twice.

“I think we’re pretty well set up for next year,” Riser said. “Some girls may not have been out there on the court, but they were in practice every day. They got great experience in practice that a lot of kids won’t have.

See, that’s where it all began. It’s what Hissam, who would like to play volleyball in college, won’t forget.

“I love playing for Coach Riser,” Hissam said. “We all do. She’s an amazing coach.”

A coach whose impact will go beyond three hours, or four years.