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No title but a lot of class

March 24, 2009

Tom Gutshall is never a loss for words when talking about the program he's built at Tucker County.

The spirited Gutshall has earned that right after spending the last 26-plus years coaching at the school. He's won more than 300 games and been a fixture at the state tournament on a yearly basis.

But Gutshall is still looking for that elusive state championship.

"I guess I'm probably getting the reputation as the coach whose been (to the state tournament) the most times without a state title," he said after the Mountain Lions lost to Charleston Catholic is the semifinals. "We've came close but have never been able to get over the hump."

Despite not expecting to make much noise this season after losing a pair of all-state first-team selections, Gutshall's squad was determined to prove the doubters wrong.

"Everyone thought this would be a down year for us because of what we loss," Gutshall said. "But this group came together and wanted to prove something. They worked very hard and was one of the most coachable teams I've ever had."

That's high praise from the veteran coach. But anyone who saw this squad play during the season and in Charleston, witnessed a group of kids that played for one another with the "team" aspect coming first.

That's something you don't see enough in the new era of high school sports.

"We're all friends on and off the court," said point guard Darius Dillard, one of five seniors on the team. "This was a fun team to play on and that's what you want as a senior."

Gutshall knows getting to the state tournament and advancing becomes tougher every year. He knows there's pressure to succeed because of the past success of the program.

"There's not a whole lot to do in Tucker County so sports, especially basketball, is important to the community," Gutshall said. "Fans plan there vacations around the state tournament because they expect us to be (in Charleston). We've had success because of the players we have in our program. They work as hard as anyone and are just great kids to coach."

The private school's run of Class A state titles (eight straight after Wheeling Central's win on Saturday) will end some day. Whether it's next spring or five years from now, it will happen.

Hopefully it will be a class program like Tucker County cutting down the nets on that day.

They deserve it.

TOUGH?EXIT:?It happens in the blink of an eye that a high-school student-athlete sees his career come to an end.

It's especially hard when it happens in the state tournament and you're forced to watch from the bench.

Jordan Simon saw is basketball career end in that fashion.

The Philip Barbour two-sport standout injured his ankle during Class AA quarterfinal play against Oak Hill.

With his team still within striking distance against the talented Red Devil team, Simon injured his ankle driving to the basket late in the third quarter.

He never returned.

Whether the Colts would have kept the game close with Simon playing will never be known.

It just would've been nice to see the senior on the floor until the very end.



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