OVAC Coach of the Year finalists named

WHEELING — All of the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference championships for the 2018-19 school year have been dispersed.

However, one more big award remains

The OVAC Coach of the Year will be presented Monday evening during the annual OVAC Banquet of Champions at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling.

The coach of the year honor, which will be given for the 55th consecutive year, is one of the highest honors an OVAC coach can receive because of the sheer volume of highly successful coaches who compete in the now 52-member conference.

All of the candidates, which stem from the 2018 spring season, fall and winter of this school year, were narrowed to a list of five finalists, all of whom will be recognized during the banquet.

The final five are Ernie Banks (St. Clairsville swimming), Eric Huck (Fort Frye football), Joe Schmidle (University boys basketball), Ed West (John Marshall softball) and Jordan Williams (Beaver Local).

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

ERNIE BANKS, St. Clairsville Swimming — This Red Devils’ coach took the reins of the program in 2014 after serving several seasons as an assistant coach.

The Red Devils — boys and girls — enjoyed one of their best seasons in the history of the program this past winter.

St. Clairsville swept the Class 1A-4A swim titles and the girls won the overall crown, too. St. C. also won the girls’ sectional championship and finished fifth in the district, which is a program best.

Actually, no OVAC member had ever finished that high in the district swim championship.

St. Clairsville qualified to the state meet in a program-best five events this season and finished with 23 points at the state meet, fueled by its medley relay team and a state runner-up performance from Casadie DiBetta, who touched the wall second in the 100 breaststroke.

No Ohio-side female has ever finished that high in the state swim meet.

ERIC HUCK, Fort Frye football — This veteran coach has turned a school long known for its basketball program into a highly respected football school, too.

In 11 years at the helm, Huck has guided the Cadets to an 88-33 record and six the school’s playoff berths. But, it was in 2018 when the Fort achieved its greatest season.

The Cadets won all nine of their regular-season games en route to winning the OVAC Class 3A championship. In the postseason, the Cadets weren’t finished.

Prior to this past season, Fort Frye owned only three playoff victories in its school history. Huck and the Cadets equaled that with an impressive run through the Region 23 field, which culminated with an 18-6 victory against Shadyside in the regional championship game.

In the state semifinals, the Cadets fell to eventual Division VI state champion Kirtland, 35-18.

Along with the regional and OVAC title, the Cadets claimed the PVC crown and Huck was named Eastern District Coach of the Year.

JOE SCHMIDLE, University Boys Basketball — The Hawks got to the top of the Mountain in the Mountain State this past winter under the fifth-year coach’s guidance.

The Hawks finished the season with a strong 24-4 record, claiming the OVAC 5A championship before embarking on a postseason, which saw them win the Class AAA state championship with a 51-45 victory against then undefeated Martinsburg.

Schmidle has guided the Hawks to three consecutive OVAC titles and the state championship was the first in boys hoops in the school’s illustrious history.

ED WEST, John Marshall Softball — This veteran skipper posted one of the most successful seasons in the illustrious history of the Monarch program in 2018.

John Marshall finished the season with an impressive 30-3 record, which saw them advance to the Class AAA state championship game. Both of the JM losses in state tournament came to powerful Hurricane.

The Monarchs finished undefeated against Ohio Valley competition and at one point rode a 21-game winning streak.

En route to Vienna, John Marshall won its seventh consecutive OVAC championship and moved into a share of the conference lead in all-time crowns with 14.

JORDAN WILLIAMS, Beaver Local Wrestling — This ninth-year head coach took the Beavers to impressive heights this past winter.

Williams guided the Beavers to an overall championship at the Ron Mauck OVAC Wrestling Tournament as well as the 4A title after four of his wrestlers claimed individual titles. They claimed the 4A dual title as well and finished 13-2 in duals during the season.

Beyond the Beavers’ OVAC success, Williams led his team to its first appearance in the OHSAA Wrestling State Team Tournament where they advanced to the state semifinals before falling.

In the individual tournament, the Beavers won the Division II District Championship and finished 13th in the state tournament with three all-Ohioans, including a state runnerup, Cole McComas.

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