West Liberty men, women picked to win MEC titles
BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. - It is no surprise that the West Liberty University men's basketball team is picked to win the inaugural Mountain East Conference championship.
The Hilltoppers won the last three WVC regular season and tournament titles and are coming off their third consecutive NCAA Division II Elite Eight appearance.
However, no new pieces have been added for the team announced as the preseason's top team during Monday's basketball media day at the Bridgeport Conference Center.
West Liberty even lost one player, Nick Brown, who averaged five points in 25 games with one start. Brown transferred to Point Park (Pa.), which visits West Liberty on Nov. 18.
Also gone is guard Alex Falk, who was the Daktronics NCAA Division II Player of the Year, as well as guard Tim Hausfeld and forward Chris Morrow.
Returning for West Liberty is guard Cedric Harris (16.8 points per game last season), forward C.J. Hester (12.1) and guard Shawn Dyer (11.1). West Liberty returns only eight players who participated in at least one game last season, so the depth - or lack thereof - might not be familiar to Hilltopper opponents.
"People say, 'You don't go the JUCO route or the D1 route," he said. "Just because I didn't find one, I didn't see one I liked. We did need some help this year and looked, didn't see anything I liked, so we're going to go with players who got to play last year, in a different role, will have to step up. The ones who didn't play much last year, will play a lot, and the guys who didn't play at all, will have to step up and play some.
"We don't improve, we're not going to be a real good basketball team."
Crutchfield said Harris could be the player, like Falk, to bring everything together.
"I think Cedric Harris has got to be more of an intense player every year for us, maybe in a different type of way," Crutchfield said. "If anybody would assume that role might be him."
In the last four years of the WVC, the Hilltoppers have an overall record of 128-9 with only three conference losses.
West Liberty received 11 of a possible first-place votes in the preseason poll. Fairmont State, which was picked No. 2 in the poll, received the other first-place vote.
Wheeling Jesuit was picked third, while Concord and Shepherd were tied for fourth.
The University of Charleston, under first-year Coach Dwaine Osborne, was picked sixth, followed by West Virginia State at seventh.
* * *
ONLY SIX of the top 20 leading scorers from the final season of the West Virginia Conference return to compete in the inaugural campaign of the MEC.
The leader is Fairmont State junior Jamel Morris, who was fifth in the WVC last season when he averaged 19.4 points for Glenville State.
Morris plays some in the offseason with Fairmont State standout Brendon Cooper and opted to transfer to play with him. However, Glenville State didn't release him from his scholarship, forcing Morris to sit out a season. Morris will have two years of eligibility remaining.
* * *
WEST VIRGINIA State women's Coach David Smith said his team's choice of sixth in the MEC Coaches' Poll is "about right."
"I wish I could stand up here and talk how we could contend for a championship," said Smith, who is in his second year at State. "Someday I might be able to do that, today's not the day."
* * *
WEST LIBERTY was picked first in the MEC women's coaches' preseason poll, but will be without its best player from last season, Hillary Southworth.
Coach Lynn Ullom said the 5-foot-10 guard switched majors and will redshirt this season, but will return for the 2014-15 campaign. Southworth led the WVC in scoring last year at 24.1 points per game.
Also, Southworth had minor knee surgery and didn't recover as quickly as expected although Ullom said he hopes she'll be fully recovered to play her final year of eligibility after this season.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837.