West Virginia Enjoys Seasons Of Success
By Bob Hertzel
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – As summer school starts at WVU, so, too, does a new athletic year.
We were reminded of that with the annual release of early enrollees who are either beginning or continuing their journey from schoolboy into life via the rigors that come with combining being a football player and student.
It also reminded us this year of just how much fun it is to win. We have well-documented the journey: The rifle team brought home its annual national championship. The football team returned to the ranks of a 10-win, nationally-ranked program. The women’s basketball team won the Big 12 Tournament.
The men’s basketball team played through the Sweet 16 and, had they found a way to make a few late baskets against Gonzaga, well may have made it to the NCAA Final Four. And the baseball team just concluded what well may be its finest season.
That is a full plate of goodies but it overflowed this season as Nikki Izzo-Brown’s two-decade building project took her and her women’s soccer team to the pinnacle of the sport, reaching the NCAA finals before losing in what could well be termed an upset, at the least, and upsetting, at the most, against USC.
This being the Wonderful Age of Twitter, where we can rise in the morning and, instead of enjoying your coffee with the morning paper or Good Morning America, you can get your information and entertainment from the stream-of-consciousness tweets coming out of the White House. With such a tool at your disposal, this seemed to be the perfect time to see just what the West Virginia nation was thinking about its favorite teams, which led to putting what seem to have emerged as the four major drawing cards to the test.
The question was put forth, which was WVU’s Team of the Year: The 10-win football team, the baseball team that reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 21 years, the Sweet 16 basketball team, or the national runner-up soccer team?
To be honest, I had no idea which way the votes would go. This is traditionally football country, and with the team returning to prominence, one suspects just by sheer numbers (attendance reaching 60,000 at time), the football team would run away. But we are just days from the end of WVU’s exciting and heroic baseball run with a fan friendly team that seemed to capture everyone’s imagination.
We suspected the basketball team, as good as it was, wasn’t really part of the mix in this as that final loss to Gonzaga sapped a lot of what had been a great run during the season out of everyone. And then there was the women’s soccer team, not really a media darling but certainly the most accomplished aside from rifle, and with one of the greatest athletes to play any sport at WVU in Kadeisha Buchanan.
The vote was most surprising, however, at least to one sportswriter who misread the affection this state has for football. With good participation going beyond 180 votes, the women’s soccer team won by a landslide: Popular vote, electoral college vote and a show of hands.
On Twitter, Nikki’s ladies drew 57 percent of the vote, more than the other three sports combined. In second place was Bob Huggins’ basketball team, despite the letdown in the final minutes of the Gonzaga game, with 21 percent, while Randy Mazey’s baseball team, a group that seemed to captivate the imagination of the community, came in at 14 percent. That leaves Dana Holgorsen’s football team, which drew only 8 percent of the vote.
That’s intriguing, for you have to question what it says. Certainly there was excitement last year with 10 victories, but there were a couple of games where WVU fans really felt let down and then to have the season end in a lackluster bowl defeat had to leave a sour taste. Of course, timing is everything, and one suspects if they were to beat Virginia Tech in next year’s opener and you ran the same poll you’d find football ahead of everyone.
So what did this poll show? Well, it helps if there is no negativity at all surrounding your team — on or off the field — and certainly the women’s soccer team fits there. But the bottom line comes down to one thing: Winning.
The other teams won games but not titles. The women’s soccer team will go down as one of the great athletic teams in the school’s history and earned the fan respect that it is being shown.