OVAC coach of the year finalists set

The Ohio Valley Athletic Conference is the largest high school sports conference in the United States.

So, narrowing down more than 600 coaches to five and then to one to determine who will be named the Bill Van Horne OVAC Coach of the Year is a daunting task.

Ohio Valley media made its nominations and then last month the committee sat down to try to determine who would receive the 45th annual award during Monday’s 28th annual OVAC Banquet of Champions at WesBanco Arena.

The winner will join an illustrious group of 37 different coaches who’ve received the award in the past. Wheeling Central head football coach Mike Young won the award last year.

The award, which will be presented by retired Wheeling Intelligencer Sports Editor Doug Huff, includes coaches from the spring of 2012 and the fall and winter of this school year.

The OVAC Coach of the Year Committee consists of: Tom Rataiczak, Bob Koch, Ron Mauck, Don Zinni, Shawn Rine, John Howell, Rob Metzger, Bubba Kapral, Jeff Harrison, Seth Staskey and Huff.

Here’s a capsule look at the five finalists in alphabetical order:

MIKE BLACKBURN, Steubenville Wrestling – The Big Red wrestling program has developed into one of the state of Ohio’s most respected under the leadership of this head coach.

For the second straight year, Blackburn is a coach of the year finalist after guiding Steubenville to a most memorable season. Steubenville finally got over the hump in the Ron Mauck OVAC Wrestling Tournament and dethroned Parkersburg South for the overall title.

Big Red finished the OVAC Tournament with 267.5 points. Big Red was fueled to the championship by four individual champions.

Steubenville also claimed the OVAC 4A title in the dual tournament for the second straight season. They advanced to the inaugural Ohio State Duals regional final before falling to eventual dual runner-up Claymont in the title match.

Big Red finished 11th in the Division II state tournament. They were sectional champions at Buckeye Local and second to Claymont in the district.

KIM CLIFFORD, St. Clairsville boys basketball – The Red Devils had yet another season to remember as this veteran coach completed his 21st season on the St. C. bench.

This marks the second straight season that Clifford is a finalist for the Coach of the Year honor. He earned his way back to the final five after leading the Red Devils to an impressive 22-3 record and second straight trip to the Ohio Division II regional in Athens.

Clifford, who has been a head basketball coach for 27 years, owns a 305-184 mark at St. Clairsville. Of those, he’s racked up 45 of those victories in the past two seasons.

En route to claiming the school’s second ever district title, the Red Devils captured their second straight OVAC 4A title, fighting off Steubenville for the crown. St. C. was undefeated against OVAC competition this past season. It’s only losses came at the hands of Columbus Africentric, Cleveland St. Ignatius and then New Philadelphia in the regional semifinal by a 65-50 count.

Clifford also guided the Red Devils to their fourth straight Buckeye 8 crown.

DAN LIEDTKE, Fort Frye girls basketball – This long-time basketball mentor is making his third appearance as a finalist for the top award.

Liedtke completed his 30th year of coaching and fourth as girls’ head coach with a trip to the Ohio Division III State Tournament. The Lady Cadets finished the season with a 25-4 record after they fell in the state semifinals to Columbus Africentric, 43-40.

Along the way, Liedtke’s squad captured its third OVAC title in four seasons, fourth straight sectional title, fourth straight Pioneer Valley Conference title and reached the district final for the third straight year.

This was Liedtke’s first season of coaching just the girls. When he first accepted the post as Lady Cadets’ coach, he also continued to guide the boys’ program as well. His career girls’ record is now 84-17.

All told, Liedtke owns a career head coaching record of 517-189. He guided Fort Frye to nine OVAC titles and 21 PVC crowns.

BRETT McLEAN, St. Clairsville football – It was a season that’ll never be forgotten within the Red Devils’ program and this veteran head coach steered the ship throughout.

Entering the season with extremely high expectations, the Red Devils didn’t disappoint. Outside of trailing at the half in the first week of the season against Wheeling Park, they were never challenged en route to a perfect 10-0 regular season, which included the school’s sixth OVAC title, but first under McLean and first since 1990.

The Red Devils featured a potent offense that scored nearly 40 points game. They earned the top seed in Division IV, Region 15 and took care of Harrison Central and Piketon with relative ease before pulling out a 37-29 victory against Johnstown-Monroe to win the regional title.

In the semifinals, St. C. scored a thrilling 40-27 victory over then defending state champions Creston Norwayne. The victory sent St. C. to its first-ever appearance in the title game.

In the title game, the Red Devils fell dropped a 46-36 decision to Clarksville Clinton-Massie, finishing with a 14-1 record.

ED WEST, John Marshall softball – The run that the Lady Monarchs’ softball team went on last season will be tough to be duplicated, ever.

A season after guiding the Lady Monarchs to the Class AAA state runner-up trophy, West and the Lady Monarchs were able to finish the job in 2012 with only one senior on the roster. The title was the second in the school’s history, but first since 1988.

The Lady Monarchs defeated Parkersburg South, 11-5, in the championship game. The championship game victory marked West’s 100th career victory. All told, the Lady Monarchs finished with a 35-4 record. The total number of victories was a school record.

During the course of the season, the Lady Monarchs won 29 straight games, including the OVAC Class 5A title.

Just last week, West was recognized as the National High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year for 2012.