WEST LIBERTY - It seems, as we've watched West Liberty women's basketball coach Lynn Ullom pile up more than 400 career victories during the last two decades in a remarkable career, we've rarely stopped to look at some of the individuals who have helped make that happen.
Ullom's system is an undeniable winner, it's often copied (the ultimate compliment), and best of all, it helps recruit itself.
So many times during the years, he's lost a highly productive player to graduation, inserted another in her spot, and gotten equal or greater production.
Tori Hansen presents a strong case for herself.
Just the other day, Ullom was talking about junior Jordan Stacey, saying he hasn't had an athletic "4'' like her since Rachael Dedo. Dedo hasn't played at West Liberty in 10 years. It's easy for Ullom to remember everyone. They come, they play forever, they enjoy immense success, and they forge a lifelong bond.
Still, sometimes a player comes along that is so special, she catches your eye and stands out in a singular sense among the overwhelming team success. It happened with Melissa Hammond, Joanna Bernabei, Adrianne Harlow, Kelly West, Ashlea Bland, certainly with Jaana Kotova, and it's happening right now with Tori Hansen.
Hansen, a 5-foot-9 senior guard from McKean, Pa., was the West Virginia Conference Freshman of the Year in 2008-09, the WVC Player of the Year as a sophomore, and she's a lock for her third straight first-team all-WVC appearance and maybe another Player of the Year award at this season's end.
Bernabei, Kotova, and Hansen are West Liberty's only league-wide Players of the Year. No Hilltoppers player has won it twice. Bernabei, Harlow, Bland, Hammond, and West were all named to the WVC's ''25 at 25'' All-Time Women's Basketball Greats list that was compiled in 2007.
Yes, Ullom's had some great ones. But has there been anyone better than Hansen?
Hansen, second on the school's all-time scoring list, is on a pace to pass Hammond, the leader since 1993 with 2,150 career points. She needs fewer than 300 with 17 regular-season games and who knows how many postseason games remaining? She's averaging a robust 21.5 points per game, meaning if she keeps that up, she'll own that record.
Amazingly, as she's played all over the court out of necessity, Hansen's already in the top 5 of the school's all-time rebounds (where she could wind up second at this pace), assists, and steals lists.
This is to say nothing of her perfect 4.0 grade-point average; she's never gotten a B.
Earlier in the week against Wheeling Jesuit, Hansen missed a layup, got her own rebound, and missed it again. She let out a yell in frustration once the defensive rebound was cleared and headed the other way.
''She's a competitive kid,'' Ullom said. ''She wears her emotion on her sleeve.''
Normally, in a situation like that, Ullom will take the player aside and offer up some advice. But after three-plus years, more than 100 starts, and more than 3,500 minutes, he knows that's no longer necessary with Hansen. There's a mutual respect between the two in this area.
''It comes with a coach-player relationship after four years,'' Ullom said. ''I don't have to yell at her like I did two years ago. I've got so much faith in her. You just sit back and let the game come to her.''
As usual, it did. Hansen wound up scoring 25 points and collecting eight rebounds that night.
''Being a marked girl, she still gets 20-some every night,'' Ullom said. ''I don't know how she does it.''
Last season, Hansen set single-season school records for points (705), field goals made (260) and attempted (508), and free-throws attempted (261). She also set personal single-game career highs in points (35) and rebounds (17) last season.
It'll take a team effort if the Hilltoppers are going to beat Glenville State today in a highly anticipated matchup of two of the nation's top scoring teams. Glenville State is first, averaging 99.3 per game.
Hansen averaged 25 and 10 last season as the Hilltoppers swept of the Pioneers.
They might need more than that from her today.
Does anyone doubt she can do it?
Maybe we don't need to know now. Perhaps we'll find out when the WVC releases its ''50 at 50'' list.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com