OVAC Coach of the year finalists set

WHEELING – There are some 600 coaches in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference.

Many of whom, enjoyed tremendous success during their respective seasons.

That makes the task of choosing an overall coach of the year quite difficult.

The OVAC has wittled down the list of coaches to five finalists and one will receive the highest coaching honor in the conference at Monday night’s OVAC Banquet of Champions at WesBanco Arena when the OVAC Bill Van Horne Coach of the Year is named.

The honor is based on spring sports of 2013 and fall and winter of the current school year.

Each of the five finalists will receive a plaque.

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

JUSTIN CLIFFORD, Harrison Central baseball – This coach was only at the helm for two seasons of the Huskies’ program, but the final season is one that no one will soon forget.

Clifford guided the Huskies’ baseball team to a 23-8 record, which ended in the Division II state semifinals at Huntington Park in Columbus. Harrison Central also won the OVAC Class 4A title along the way, which saw them win their first district title in baseball.

To get to the state tournament, Harrison Central defeated Vincent Warren in the regional semifinal and then it rallied past Waverly, winning on a balk to get to the state tournament.

The Huskies fell to Plain City Jonathan Alder in the state semifinal.

Clifford stepped down from his post after accepting a job as dean of students at Harrison Central. He still remains the school’s boys’ basketball coach.

Clifford’s father, Kim, was a finalist for this award following the 2012 season.

MICHAEL DENNISTON, Cambridge tennis – The Bobcats’ tennis program is on extremely solid footing and much of that is because of the work done by Denniston.

The Bobcats’ head coach of 22 years, Denniston guided Cambridge to undefeated seasons in both 2012 and 2013 and he surpassed 200 career victories last spring.

Cambridge was the overall and 5A OVAC champions in 2013 and also claimed its third consecutive East Central Ohio League crown.

For four consecutive seasons, Denniston directed qualifiers to the OHSAA State Tennis Tournament held in Columbus. He had a doubles team qualify four straight seasons and a singles player twice.

Denniston died on Dec. 29, 2013 at the age of 62. A member of his family will accept the award on his behalf. The tennis courts inside Cambridge City Park have been re-named in Denniston’s honor.

DON HEADLEY, Wheeling Park golf – The Patriots have built quite the string of golf success over the years. Headley has been one of the driving forces in continuing it.

He guided the Patriots to the Class AAA state championship last season with a team score of 472 during the two-day event held at Oglebay. The title was the third that Headley has captured as the head coach.

For the fourth straight season, Headley coached the individual state champion, too. Cole Hand repeated as AAA individual medalist in 2013.

Headley, who has been at the Patriots’ helm for now six seasons, had guided his team to five consecutive OVAC big-school championships before settling for second last season.

MEL STEPHENS, Wheeling Central boys basketball – The Maroon Knights’ boss wrapped up his 11th season at the helm in impressive fashion.

Stephens guided the Maroon Knights to their fifth state championship under his watch when Wheeling Central fought off Charleston Catholic in double OT, 64-55.

The victory against Charleston Catholic avenged a state semifinal setback in 2013.

Central, which was the top seed in the state tourney, needed overtime to escape the quarterfinal round when it knocked off Parkersburg Catholic, 59-57. The Knights then took down Clay-Battelle in the state semifinals, 71-54.

En route to the state tournament, the Knights reeled off 14 straight wins, including winning the OVAC Class 2A championship against Wellsville. The conference title was the sixth under Stephens’ watch.

Stephens, who was the OVAC co-coach of the year in 2009, owns a remarkable 196-96 career record.

DOUG TAYLOR, Madonna football – The Blue Dons came into the 2013 season looking to finish the job after falling by a point in the 2012 Class A West Virginia State Championship Game to Wahama.

The Blue Dons got back to Wheeling Island Stadium and completed the mission with this third-year head coach leading the way.

Taylor and the Blue Dons not only hoisted the sport’s top trophy, they did so in perfect fashion, completing the 14-0 season.

Along the way, the Blue Dons captured the school’s 10th and second consecutive OVAC Class 1A championship.

Taylor was named the Wheeling Intelligencer Football Coach of the Year as voted on by his Ohio Valley coaching peers.