Amy Gamble reached the heights of individual prep basketball honors in the early 1980’s but the former U.S. Olympic team handball member regards the 1982 state roundball title won by John Marshall High School at the top of the list.
“There’s nothing like winning championships,” the Marshall County resident states. “It’s the beauty of team sports. Everybody is a contributor.”
Gamble, a member of the 2004 charter Hall of Fame class of the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference, led the Monarchs to the state Class AAA title with a finals’ win over Elkins, 55-46 in the first girls tournament held at the Charleston Civic Center. It was sweet revenge for the Monarchs (25-1), which lost its only regular season game, in double overtime, at Elkins (25-2).
It was also the first state title won by an Ohio Valley largest Class AAA team.
“Our players were really geared up for the championship game,” JM coach and OVAC Hall of Famer Stan Blankenship recalled. “We all felt we should have won that regular season game at Elkins and the win was extra sweet.”
The only girls basketball title in school history came a year after the unbeaten Monarchs were ranked No. 1 in the state in regular season only to fall to St. Albans in the 1981 state tournament held at the Eddie King Gymnasium on the University of Charleston campus. “We won 55 straight OVAC games during that period,” Blankenship recalls, “and hard-fought rivalry games with Wheeling Park and Brooke.” The JM win over Park in the 1982 sectional tournament went three overtimes. The Monarch win over Brooke in the regional final at the JM Fieldhouse drew a crowd estimated at over 2,000 fans, which was the “largest turnout for a girls game in the Valley up to that point,” according to Gamble.
With such challenges enroute to the state tournament, and a season rematch in the finals against Elkins, the title game had even greater significance. “We believed we were the best team and had a level of confidence to avenge our only loss,” Gamble notes.
The Monarchs opened state tournament play with a win over Parkersburg South as Gamble scored 26 points. The semifinal victim was defending champion Greenbrier East.
In the finals, with an announced crowd of 1,255, the Monarchs started fast and controlled play against the Tigers coached by Wheeling native Jay Dailer. JM led by 33-20 at half as 5-foot-8 sophomore sharpshooter Clessie Hines scored 14 of her game-high 24 points with radar shooting from the wing as the Tigers focused on double-teaming Gamble. The Monarch lead after three quarters was 45-36 before Blankenship took a page from North Carolina’s Dean Smith and went to a four-corner offense with four minutes left to play. The 5-foot-11 Gamble was moved outside to run the point and Elkins couldn’t handle the switch. “We controlled the tempo and the game,” Gamble notes.
Gamble ended with 14 points, 14 rebounds, two assists and multiple steals in an all-round effort as JM ended the season with 20 straight wins.
Elkins was led by Alexis Basil with 19 points. Basil later played, and coached, at West Virginia University.
Besides all-tournament picks Gamble and Hines, the other Monarch starters were a pair of 5-foot-10 seniors in point guard Jodi Eckelberry and center Katie Brooks, who missed the regular season game at Elkins with an injury, and 5-5 sophomore wing Patti Maroney.
“We had a good crowd following for the postseason,” Blankenship says, “and when we returned home from Charleston, we had a parade of cars starting at New Martinsville and escorting us all the way up the (Ohio) River.”
Besides the state crown, the Monarchs were rated 18th in the first national Top 25 rankings by USA Today. Gamble earned All-America recognition by USA Today and Parade before signing a scholarship with the University of Tennessee. The Vols’ coach, Pat Head Summit, and University of Virginia assistant coach Geno Auriemma–the current UConn mentor, scouted the regular season game between JM and Elkins as recalled by Gamble and Blankenship. “After the game, coach Summit talked to me and I never forgot it,” Gamble recalled.