Hedgesville has a hammerlock on the Metronews Power Index and with good reason. In a sport where it’s nearly impossible to go undefeated, the Flying Eagles remain unbeaten through more than half of the season. The only Class AAA team still left without a blemish.
“We remind our kids all the time that rankings are for other people,” said Hedgesville coach Kelly Church. “But, it’s a nice thing for our kids, I think they’ve earned it and it’s a nice thing for the program and the entire community.”
Hedgesville hasn’t built its record on the remains of powder puffs, but rather by playing (and winning) in the rough and tumble eastern panhandle, which has three teams in the top eleven of the PI.
“Night in and night out there is no ‘gimme’; there’s just not,” said Church. “The interesting thing about this part of the state is it’s so congested—we’re all right on top of each other—and there are so many good players at all these different schools and it makes for an exciting time of year for the communities and we’re excited to be a part of it.”
The Flying Eagles are also winning convincingly, by an average of 27 points per game. They are averaging 64 points per game while only giving up 37 points per contest.
It’s been a consistent rise to the top for Hedgesville, which has been in the top ten of the Metronews Power Index for much of the past decade and made it to the state title game in 2004, when they lost to Woodrow Wilson 49-41.
Church has been able to sustain success because of the way he’s built the program.
“If anybody’s ever been to our practices it’s extremely difficult,” said Church. “We run them a lot like you would a college basketball practice—it’s very intense. If you don’t do exactly what we say when we say it, then there are punishments handed out, but there’s no way we could be as demanding as we are on them if we didn’t spend a great deal of time with them off the court as well. We really do stress academics. We’ve had valedictorians and we’ve had some kids who’ve had academic difficulties. We want the kids to understand that the lessons they are learning here along the way in basketball are far greater if you apply them to life than just one game.”
The lesson this year may be that hard work and persistence pays off. The Flying Eagles are not big—their tallest player is a 6-foot-6 sophomore—or the most experienced—just four seniors. But, despite those shortcomings Hedgesville is dominating. Martinsburg may be the only team that can hang with them. The Bulldogs lost by just two points at Hedgesville and the two meet again in Martinsburg on Feb. 18.
“We know we have a number of things we need to improve on,” said Church. “Over the past two years we’ve lost 16 kids and so we didn’t have a lot of experience coming into the season. We weren’t sure how we’d do at all, to be honest with you. We found a way to win a couple of games that maybe we shouldn’t have won. We’re learning along the way.”