Reviewing The Mountaineer Year

WVU flags decorate the band's pregame performance
WVU flags decorate the band's pregame performance

Reviewing The Mountaineer Year

MORGANTOWN,W.Va. — As we watch 2019 turn into 2020, we look back upon it as a year of comings and goings, of championships and disappointment, a year when the NCAA discovered WVU to host tournament events.

From Dana Holgorsen’s exit to Neal Brown’s hiring, it was a year of adjustments, a struggling basketball team ending one year and opening the next with success.

We will look back on the year in three parts:

Part 1: January to June

Part 2: July to December

Part 3: The top stories of the year

Part I

Jan. 2: Dana Holgorsen leaves for Houston

The storied eight-year career of Dana Holgorsen as West Virginia football coach that saw him lead the team into the Big 12 and become the second winningest coach in school history with a record of 61-41 ended with an underachieving 8-4 season and with him announcing he was leaving to coach the University of Houston.

Jan. 5: Neal Brown signs as WVU’s 34th football coach,

WVU athletic director wasted no time replacing Holgorsen as he turned to Troy’s Neal Brown, one of six FBS coaches to win 10 games in each of the past three seasons and signed him to a six-year, $19,050,000 contract as WVU’s 34th head football coach.

Jan. 11 — Starting center Matt Jones leaves for Youngstown State

Claiming he wanted to return home, Matt Jones became the first player to leave Brown’s program, creating a problem at center that would exist the entire year.

Feb. 11 — Ahmad, Harris dismissed from WVU basketball team

With his basketball team crumbling around him, Bob Huggins dismissed forwards Esa Ahmad and Wesley Harris from his team for a “violation of athletic department policies. The move would offer opportunities to younger players and clear the locker room air, allowing for a strong finish on a disappointing season.

Feb. 13 — Keli Zinn named one of 40 under 40 top sports executives

WVU’s Deputy Athletic Director Keli Zinn was recognized by “Street and Smith’s Sport Business Journal” as a member of its 2019 class of Forty Under 40 Sports Business executives.

Feb. 23: Rifle team wins GARC championship for 10th straight time

The No. 4-ranked West Virginia University rifle team clinched its 10th consecutive Great America Rifle Conference (GARC) Championship crown with a winning 2373 air rifle score shot inside the University of Akron’s Stile Athletics Field House in Akron, Ohio.

Feb. 26 — WVU beats TCU in triple overtime as Derek Culver goes 20-20

WVU ended a five-game losing streak while launching a strong finish on its season with a 104-96 triple overtime victory against TCU at the Coliseum. Playing without what was expected to be its four top players, WVU started four freshmen and seemed to grow up as the game went on.

Freshman Derek Culver, who sat out the first semester of the season, played 50 minutes of the game and record a rare 20-20 double-double with 22 points and 21 rebounds. The last WVU player to do so was Maurice Robinson against CCNY at the Coliseum on Dec. 7, 1977 when he scored 20 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in a 105-66 Mountaineer victory.

March 2 — David Dixon wins two Big 12 swimming championships

WVU sophomore David Dixon won his second Big 12 Swimming and Diving championship in as many days when he finished first in the men’s 200 butterfly at the 2019 Big 12 Championship, earning a school-record time of 1:42.15. Dixon’s victory came after he won the men’s 100 butterfly in a time of 46.73 a day earlier.

March 3 — WVU baseball beats No. 3 Oregon 2-0.

WVU’s baseball team showed it was in for a special season as it beat the undefeated and No. 3 Oregon team, 2-0, behind right-hander Kade Strowd before the Beavers home crowd. WVU had only once before beaten a team ranked as high as No. 3 in the polls.

March 6 — Kari Niblack named Big 12 6th man, Tynice Martin and Naomi Davenport named to all-Big 12 team and Madisen Smith named to all rookie team

WVU freshman Niblack averaged 8.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game off the bench for West Virginia. Martin was named All-Big 12 for the second time in her career after averaging 18.0 points a game and Davenport wa a first time All-Big 12 selection averaging 15.2 points and 8 rebounds a game. Smith was just the third Mountaineer player to be named to the league’s All-Freshman team.

March 9 — Madelin Gardner All-American

Redshirt senior Madelin Gardner of the West Virginia University track and field team earned a ninth-place finish in the women’s pole vault at the 2019 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships with a mark of 4.26 meters (13 feet, 11.75 inches) to earn All-America Second Team honors.

West Virginia head coach Jon Hammond (foreground r) watch Milica Babic and Ginny Thrasher

March 9 — WVU rifle finishes second in first NCAA championship held in Morgantown

Competing in the first-ever NCAA Championships final hosted by West Virginia University, the fourth-ranked Mountaineer rifle team finished second overall with a two-day total of 4692.TCU won the team title wth a score of 4699.

March 10 — Derek Culver unanimous pick on Big 12 All-Freshman team, second team All-Big 12

Derek Culver gained some respect in a difficult WVU season when he was named to the league’s All-Freshman team and was selected to the All-Big 12 second team. The Freshman of the Year was Kansas’ Jaxon Hayes and the Newcomer of the Year was the Jayhawks’ Dedric Lawson.

March 11 — Five from WVU rifle team earn All-America, Jon Hammond named co-Coach of the Year

Five WVU shooters collected 11 All-America mentions. Senior Ginny Thrasher and sophomore David Koenders each collected three accolades. Junior Milica Babic was named to the NRA All-America First Team Air Rifle, and classmate Morgan Phillips was named to the NRA All-America First Team Smallbore. Babic also was named to the CRCA All-America Honorable Mention Team. Sophomore Sarah Osborn was named to the NRA All-America Second Team Smallbore and the CRCA All-America Honorable Mention.

March 15 — WVU stuns No. 2-seed Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament

After beating Oklahoma by a point in the opening game of the Big 12 Championships and stunning No.2 seed and the nation’s seventh-ranked team Texas Tech, WVU was eliminated, 88-74, by Kansas even though Derek Culver registered his ninth double-double in 24 games on the season.

March 23 — WVU track team opens new track complex at Mylan Park

The West Virginia University track and field team opened competition at The Track & Field Complex at Mylan Park in style, winning nine events at the West Virginia Open. The meet marked the Mountaineers’ first hosted event at the new facility, which officially opened in October. It also was WVU’s first outdoor home meet since 2009.

March 25 — Bob Huggins worst season’s ends with one of his worst losses.

The worst season in Bob Huggins’ career ended wth a 15-21 record when the Mountaineers gave up 109 points in losing to Coastal Carolina, 109-91, in the CBI. It wa the first time anyone had scored 100 points against WVU since Wake Forest scored 105 in a 2005 NCAA Tournament double-overtime game. The season ended as it started, with an overtime loss and with Derek Culver being disciplined, sitting out the first half.

March 27 — Kirah Koshinski earns gymnastic All-American

Senior Kirah Koshinski was named to the Regular-Season All-America Vault First Team by the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women (NACGC/W). It is the first time in 13 years a WVU gymnast has earned All-America first team honors. Koshinski is the first gymnast in program history to earn at least one All-America award in each of her four seasons at WVU.

April 3 — Record crowd watches WVU beat Pitt in the Backyard [Base]Brawl

A program-record 3,487 fans watched the West Virginia University baseball team score the go-ahead run in the eighth inning to beat Pitt, 5-4, in the Backyard Brawl at Monongalia County Ballpark.

April 25-27 — NFL draft throws Grier, Sills a curve

Quarterback Will Grier and receiver David Sills V were disappointed in the NFL draft as Grier, expected to be a first- or second-round pick, lasted until near the bottom of the third round before being selected by his hometown Carolina Panthers while Sills was passed over entirely in the draft before signing as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills.

Offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste was drafted with the pick right after Grier while tight end Trevon Wesco saw his stock soar and was a fourth-round pick of the New York Jets right after wide receiver Gary Jennings was taken by the Seattle Seahawks. Linebacker David Long Jr., the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the sixth round.

Alek Manoah
West Virginia pitcher Alek Manaoh delivers to the plate

May 21 —WVU right-hander Alex Maoah a unanimous choice as Big 12 Pitcher of the Year and Randy Mazey named Coach of the Year

Randy Mazey was the first WVU coach named as Big 12 Coach of the Year while Manoah joined left-hander Harrison Musgrave as the only players in program history to earn Pitcher of the Year.

Manoah also was named to the All-Big 12 First Team for the first time in his career. On the All-Big 12 Second Team were senior catcher Ivan Gonzalez, senior right fielder Darius Hill, junior first baseman Marques Inman, junior right-handed reliever Sam Kessler and sophomore designated hitter Paul McIntosh. WVU’s honorable mention selections are junior left-handed starter Nick Snyder, junior center fielder Brandon White and sophomore second baseman Tyler Doanes.

May 26 — WVU loses in Big 12 Tournament final, lands NCAA Regional for first time since 1955

The No. 17-ranked and fourth-seeded West Virginia University baseball team lost the Big 12 Championship Game to 11th-ranked and third-seeded Oklahoma State, 5-2, but the pain quickly subsided whenWVU learned it would host its first NCAA regional since 1955.

May 31 — Another record crowd watches WVU win first NCAA home game since 1955

In front of a lively, record-breaking crowd of 4,355, the No. 15-seeded and 13th-ranked West Virginia University baseball team opened the NCAA Morgantown Regional with a 6-2 victory over Fordham.

June 2 — Texas A&M ends WVU’s dream baseball season with walk off grand slam in Morgantown Regional

After jumping off to a 6-0 lead in the fifth and 9-1 lead entering the seventh-inning stretch WVU fell apart in an elimination game in the NCAA Baseball Championship, losing a gut-wrenching 11-10 decision to Texas A&M on Bryce Blaum’s walk off grand slam home run off Mountaineer closer Sam Kessler.

June 3 — WVU’s Alex Manoah is taken with the 11th pick of the first round by the Toronto Blue Jays in the Major League Baseball draft.

Right-hander Alex Manoah became the second Mountainer ever picked in the first round of the MLB draft, joining another right-handed pitcher, Chris Enochs, who  was also the 11th pick of the the Oakland A’s in 1997.

In an impressive junior season, Manoah broke the school’s single-season record for strikeouts, with 144, and tied the WVU record for starts, with 16. He finished the year No. 3 in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.33/1), tied for sixth in wins (9) and shutouts (2) and was No. 9 in strikeouts per nine innings (11.96).

Catcher Ivan Gonzalez also was drafted as an 11th round pick of the Chicago White Sox while Nick Snyder was drafted in the same round by Arizona. Pitcher Kade Stowd was picked by the Baltimore Orioles in the 12th round.

June 4 — Safeties Kenny Robinson Jr. and Derrek Pitts put their names into the NCAA Transfer Portal

Kenny Robinson, who was expected to be a contender for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and fellow safety Derrek Pitts announced they would transfer. Robinson was facing potential suspension for violating the university’s code of student conduct over a academic issue. Rather than transferring, Robinson opted to join the fledgling XFL, which has former WVU quarterback and athletic director Oliver Luck as its President. Robinson wound up being drafted by the St. Louis BattleHawks with the 39th pick of the XFL draft.

June 4 — One-time 5-star recruit George Campbell announces he will transfer from Florida State to WVU

Often injured, Campbell decided to play his senior season of football in Morgantown and wound up leading the Mountaineers in touchdown receptions.

June 6 —Madelin Gardner matches her feat of earning track and field All-American honors at NCAA outdoor championships

Gardner, a redshirt senior, finished ninth in the pole vault, just as she had done in the Indoor championships in March, with a mark of 4.20 meters (13 feet, 9.25 inches) to earn second team honors.

June 22 — Nine elected to the WVU Athletic Hall of Fame

The 29th class at WVU included Meg Bulger (women’s basketball), Steve Dunlap (football), Greg Jones (wrestling), Vertus Jones (wrestling), Darryl Prue (men’s basketball), Lisa Stoia (women’s soccer), John Thornton (football), Dr. Stefan Thynell (rifle) and Pete White (men’s basketball/track & field).

Up next: Part II: July – December

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