Editorial: Better Things To Come For The Mountaineers In 2017-18?
During the 2016-17 athletic seasons, the Mountaineers finished in the top 25 in football (18th), men’s basketball (11th), women’s basketball (22nd), gymnastics (20th), rifle (1st) and women’s soccer (2nd). It is also currently ranked in the top 25 in baseball, which is the first time in history WVU has been nationally ranked in that sport.
Other than rifle, which captured its fifth straight NCAA title and 19th all time, there’s not a Mountaineer sport than didn’t wish it could have gone at least one step farther. But taken collectively, it’s hard to complain. After the winter sports season concluded, WVU was in 26th place in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup, which is a cumulative standing of all Division I athletic programs. West Virginia, which has never finished higher than 30th in the Directors’ Cup (in 2009), is currently second among all Big 12 schools behind only Texas (12th).
It’s been a banner year, but there’s no reason not to expect as much if not more from most Mountaineer programs in the year to come.
Football has to replace 14 starters from a 10-3 squad, but its offensive skill talent appears to be excellent, led by junior quarterback Will Grier, who even Dana Holgorsen admits is living up to the hype. If defensive coordinator Tony Gibson can again reload his unit that was gutted by graduation, there’s no reason to limit expectations in 2017.
Expectations certainly will be high for Bob Huggins’ 2017-18 men’s basketball squad. Admittedly the losses of Nate Adrian and Tarik Phillip will be tough to absorb, but with four starters and much of the bench returning, as well as five highly-regarded newcomers set to join them, it figures to be a highly anticipated season. Talk of a Final Four is already running rampant, and it’s not an unreasonable goal.
Mike Carey’s women’s basketball program may not enter next season with quite that same goal, but it’s not far off. It returns seven of its top eight scorers from this past year’s Big 12 tournament champion (24-11), including Big 12 tourney MVP Tynice Martin. If Carey can find an adequate replacement in the middle for Lanay Montgomery, who was a third round WNBA draft pick, he’s got the makings of potentially his best squad in his 17 seasons at WVU.
The biggest news for the Mountaineer rifle team will likely come when it does NOT win the NCAA title. Fortunately for West Virginia, bad news is probably a couple years away, as its top shooters this past year were a sophomore (Ginny Thrasher, the gold medalist from the Rio Olympics) and a pair of freshmen (Morgan Phillips and Milica Babic, who each captured individual NCAA titles this year).
It may be hard for Nikki Izzo-Brown to recapture the magic WVU’s women’s soccer program enjoyed this past fall, as it advanced to the national championship match and wound up ranked No. 2 in the country. Replacing All-Americans Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence will be very difficult, but Izzo-Brown has led West Virginia to 17 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. So replicating last year may be asking a bit much, but don’t expect this program to fall back to mediocrity as long as Izzo-Brown is in charge.
It was a fun 2016-17 at WVU, but 2017-18 could bring just as much if not more.