WVU Athletics Year In Review
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University’s athletic department had something to shoot for in 2017 if it was going to match a wild and wonderful ride through the year of 2016 that saw the year topped off by an Olympic Gold won by freshman Ginny Thrasher.
Well, there was no Olympic Gold out there for the taking in 2017, but it still was a golden year in Mountaineer sports, despite a bit of a slippage from the football team.
The Year in Review:
We begin at the top on March 11 when coach Jon Hammond took his No. 2-ranked rifle team to Columbus, Ohio, to lay claim to its fifth consecutive NCAA Rifle Championship while shooting a record 4723 in the process.
It was WVU’s 19th national championship and they put it away with a season-high 2387 score in air rifle.
“Today is always pretty tense, but this was an amazing showing,” Hammond said after putting matters away on the second day. “We were prepared for an incredibly tight championship. This was an incredible performance by this team in this environment. It is crazy to shoot a season-high air rifle at an NCAA Championship. This is a great result overall.
“It’s hard to come in here and shoot your average, and we did just that. We shot our season average. We pushed our limits as a team this year and got better and better each match. This is a big jump in standards as to what teams can do at a championship. This is only going to make the competition tougher and tougher.”
The Mountaineers’ NCAA Championship five-peat is the third in the sport since 1980. WVU previously won six straight titles from 1988-93, and Alaska-Fairbanks won six straight from 1999-2004.
Freshman Milica Babic of Serbia took down the air rifle title with a score of 208.1 while freshman Morgan Phillips won the NCAA smallbore title on the first day with a 464.3 score. She finished second behind Babic in the air rifle final.
Shortly after the championship five WVU shooters were named All-Americans: Thrasher, a sophomore who also was named the CRCA Rifle Athlete of the Year, and Babic, who was the CRCA Freshman of the year, led the way.
Also cited as All-Americans were senior Jean-Pierre Lucas, junior Elizabeth Gratz and freshman Morgan Phillips.
The hopes were high when the season started, coming off last year’s run to the NCAA Final before losing to USC, but this year’s Mountaineers just couldn’t take it that last step.
It was a decent season for Nikki Izzo-Brown’s ladies, winning 16 and losing four with three ties.
They even pulled off one of the program’s biggest wins as they knocked off Penn State, 2-1, at home when the Nittany Lions were ranked No. 1 in the country.
They went into the Big 12 Tournament favored to win but tied TCU and lost the shootout, 5-3, in penalty kicks, allowing the Horned Frogs, who advanced in the tournament.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the game-winner in regulation. We drew TCU and had to go to PKs, and unfortunately, we didn’t advance there,” Izzo-Brown said. “I was proud of our effort tonight. It’s just unfortunate we couldn’t find the back of the net.
“There are lessons learned with any kind of disappointment. I know a lot of players will learn and move forward from tonight.”
Unfortunately for them, they got to the Sweet 16 where they ran into a revenge-minded Penn State team that knocked them out, 3-1.
Senior Amandine Pierre-Louis was named the 2017 Big 12 Conference co-Defensive Player of the Year. while she, senior forward Michaela Abam and and junior defender Bianca St. Georges were named to the All-Conference team.
Abam also was a semifinalist for the Hermann Award as national player of the year that last year was won by the Mountaineers’ Kadeisha Buchanan.
Seeded sixth and given little chance in the Big 12 Tournament, Mike Carey’s team peaked through the three-day tournament and capped it by upsetting national No. 2 Baylor, the Big 12’s top seed, 77-66 in the final game to win its first championship.
Previously the women’s team owned only the 1989 Atlantic 10 Tournament title.
Sophomore guard Tynice Martin, who exploded on the national scene, scored 32 points in the final game and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
With Martin leading the way, this was no contest as WVU built a 21-point lead through three quarters, Baylor getting no closer than seven points in the fourth quarter before WVU made eight free throws down the stretch.
WVU was a giant-killer throughout the tournament, beating No. 19 Oklahoma, the No. 3 seed, 82-59, and No. 12/14 Texas, the No. 2 seed, before ending Baylor’s 20-game win streak in Big 12 Championship games.
“They knew coming down here that we had to win at least one (to reach the NCAAs), maybe two games, and I told them after the second game, we might as well win the third one since we’re here,” Carey said.
“And they came out and played extremely hard and continued to play defense the whole time. I look here where Baylor only had nine offensive rebounds, which is pretty good for us, defensively keeping them off the boards. Baylor is a great program. They do a great job. If we’re going to knock somebody off it was an honor for us to knock off Baylor because they’re such a great program. Give all the credit to our players.”
Teana Muldrow added 15 points and nine rebounds, while blocking two shots. Muldrow also grabbed Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship All-Tournament accolades after averaging 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in the three victories.
The Mountaineers then advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and nearly made it out of the year without a loss in the current season, falling at Texas on New Year’s Eve.
West Virginia’s men’s team reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA, but it came crashing down with a disappointing loss to a No. 1-seeded Gonzaga, falling in the same California city of San Jose as did the women’s soccer team in the NCAA final the year before.
Gonzaga’s disciplined style of basketball frustrated the Mountaineers all game, who tried to speed up the action but could not get it going.
Jevon Carter, who played his heart out through the entire tournament, hit a 3 with 1:47 left in the game to give the Mountaineers a 58-55 lead, but it was to be the final points for WVU.
A 3-pointer by Jordan Mathew with 59 seconds left gave Gonzaga its margin of victory as a barrage of desperation shots and a couple of free throws were off target. Carter tried to get one final shot off but time ran out on him.
“That was a mistake on my part,” Carter admitted. “’I knew they had a lot of guys at the top. I should have drove to the basket, but knowing it was a 3-point game, I tried to go for the 3 since I’d been hitting. If I am in that position again, I’ll take it to the basket.”
Carter led the cold-shooting Mountaineers, who made only 16 of 60 shots for 26.7 percent, with 21 points.
“You tell me another team in the country who can shoot 26 percent from the field against a No. 1 seed, 21 percent from 3, and still could have — should have — won the game,” coach Bob Huggins said. “I think that says a lot about what kind of guys we have.”
Carter did garner a major honor after the tournament when he was named the NABC Defensive Player of the Year Award to go with his Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award.
He would finish the season with 93 steals, giving him 218 for his career, and early in this season he would reach the No. 1 spot in career steals at WVU.
The Mountaineers finished the 2016-17 season with 28 victories, the third-most wins in a season in school history, and for the effort Huggins was rewarded with a four-year contract extension, which keep him coaching through the 2021-22 season and with the university in an emeritus rule until 2027.
Huggins’ contract calls for yearly increases in annual compensation — $100,000 each year — $3,850,000 in 2018-19, $3,950,000 in 2019-20, $4,050,000 in 2020-21 and $4,150,000 in 2021-22.
There also is a lucrative bonus system in the contract.
This year also brought forth the first class of the Mountaineer Legends Society in basketball as 21 were honored:
Leland Byrd (1946-48), Coach Gale Catlett (1979-2002), Floyd “Scotty” Hamilton (1941-43), Rod “Hot Rod” Hundley (1955-57), Greg Jones (1980-83), Lowes Moore (1977-80), Damian Owens (1995-98), Kevin Pittsnogle (2003-06), Coach Dyke Raese (1939-42), Wil Robinson (1970-72), Coach Fred Schaus (1955-60), Lloyd Sharrar (1956-58), Rod Thorn (1961-63), Jerry West (1958-60), Ron “Fritz” Williams (1966-68), Mark Workman (1950-52) from men’s basketball and Coach Kittie Blakemore (1974-92), Olivia Bradley (1982-85), Rosemary Kosiorek (1989-92), Cathy Parson (1980-83) and Georgeann Wells (1983-86) from women’s basketball.
The football team came into 2017 with the highest of hopes, coming off a 10-win season and adding prized Florida transfer Will Grier at quarterback.
While Grier delivered in a big way, his 3,490 yards compiled before breaking the middle finger on his passing hand against Texas in the next-to-last regular season game behind only Geno Smith and Marc Bulger, and 34 touchdown passes second all-time to the 42 Smith threw in 2012.
David Sills V, a converted quarterback, was the beneficiary of 18 touchdown passes this year, second only to Stedman Bailey’s 25 TDs in 2012 and good enough to earn him All-America second team honors while being the team’s lone representative on the All-Big 12 first team.
But a young defense and competing in probably the best conference in the country meant a 7-6 season for WVU.
Grier’s debut showed he was the real deal despite aa 31-24 loss to Virginia Tech as that Black Diamond Trophy rivalry was renewed. Grier completed 31-of-53 passes for 371 yards and three touchdowns.
Justin Crawford completed his WVU career with a second straight 1,000-yard season.
West Virginia played a difficult schedule, facing six Top 25 teams and managed to score only one victory, beating Iowa State at home, 20-16.
The season was marred by a pair of ugly losses to Oklahoma, 59-31, and to Oklahoma State, 50-39, and a 28-14 home loss to Texas was painful, for it included Grier’s grotesquely broken finger.
Two WVU players — cornerback Rasul Douglas and wide receiver Shelton Gibson — were taken in the NFL draft, both by the Philadelphia Eagles, Douglas in the third round and Gibson in the fifth.
The Mountaineers finished the season with a loss to Utah in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, 30-14.
In April, history was made by the new WVU golf team as it won its first intercollegiate match in more than 30 years, taking the East Carolina Intercollegiate in Greenville, North Carolina.
Golf was restarted at WVU in 2015.
Max Sear used a pair of birdies on the front nine and three more on the back nine to shoot one under in the final round, totaling 76-75-71=222 across 54 holes to finish six over par. He finished atop the individual leaderboard in a three-way tie with Tim Conover of East Carolina and Grant Renegar of Florida Gulf Coast, but fell to Renegar on the second hole of the playoff.
A couple of months later, it was the Mountaineer baseball team under Randy Mazey who made history as they advanced to the NCAA Regional for the first time since 1996.
The season ended in the Winston-Salem Regional Final with a 12-8 loss to the No. 13 host team, giving them a 36-26 record for the season.
“This team will probably go down in history maybe as one of the best ever for what we accomplished this year,” Mazey said. “I think our guys showed a lot of heart, a lot of tenacity and there are Mountaineer fans everywhere super proud of our team. We made a lot of Mountaineer baseball fans that weren’t Mountaineer baseball fans prior to this year.”
The year also saw the revitalization of the women’s volleyball program under coach Reed Sunahara, reaching post-season plaiy for the first time since 1991 as it reached the semifinals of the National Invitational Volleyball Championship.
The volleyball team scored its first victory over a nationally ranked opponent when it topped No. 14 Kansas, 3-2, in the regular season finale, then swept Maryland-Eastern Shore, Temple and Syracuse to reach the semis of the tournament before finally falling to Ole Miss on the road.
“I told them before the game they did a great job this year, and I’m proud of them,” Sunahara said. “The seniors did a great job. We made it to the postseason for the first time in 26 years, and we made a run. That’s all you can ask for.”
Sophomore Payton Caffrey led the resurgence with an All-Big 12 season.
In cross country, redshirt seniors Amy Cashin and Maggie Drazba led the West Virginia University cross country team at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, earning All-Mid-Atlantic Region honors for their performances as the Mountaineers finished seventh.
“I am very proud of the way this team has conducted itself for the entire fall,” WVU coach Sean Cleary said. “They worked very hard and had a wonderful attitude. Unfortunately, they fell short of advancing all the way to the NCAA finals.
“While having both Amy and Maggie garner all-region awards is a tremendous accomplishment, it also comes with the gut-wrenching feeling of not quite being good enough to reach their highest goal. When we look back on this season, we will do so with pride and emptiness.”
West Virginia’s men’s soccer team scored a key victory in its final regular season game of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on a golden goal by sophomore Sebastian Garcia-Herreros, but failed in its bid to reach the NCAAs when it lost, 1-0, to No. 4 Western Michigan in the MAC championships.