WEST LIBERTY - The West Liberty women were the No. 1 pick in the first preseason poll of Mountain East Conference coaches last month but coach Lynn Ullom and crew will have to overcome some adversity in order to live up to those expectations.
The biggest news coming out of the MEC Media Day was that senior guard Hillary Southworth, a returning first team All-American who was the second-leading scorer in the nation last year at 24.1 ppg., will miss this season with a medical redshirt.
"Hillary had what was supposed to be a minor procedure on one of her knees but it seemed to make things worse instead of better," Ullom said. "We finally decided to pull the plug and bring her back next year at 100 percent for her senior season."
Ullom must also replace his two top post players in former Tyler Consolidated star Meghan Wiseman - a 1,000-point scorer - and three-year regular Emily Blevins.
There's a strong nucleus returning. Liz Flowers, a 5-foot-7 sophomore guard from Williamstown, started every game a year ago and made the WVIAC All-Freshman Team. She averaged nearly 10 points and six rebounds a night while ranking among the top 20 nationally with 148 assists.
Also returning to the starting lineup is 5-9 junior guard Bri Kamarec from Indian Creek, a defensive specialist with 3-point range. The only other junior on the roster is 5-8 shooting guard Jenn Mohney, who brings speed and a deadly 3-point shooting eye to the perimeter.
Other returning sophomores include 5-11 post Kiki Simpson, 5-6 guard Jasmin Kiley and 5-7 guard Chelsea Bradley. The athletic Simpson saw limited minutes a year ago behind a veteran front line but could be poised for a breakout year. Kiley can be an explosive scorer - she lit Glenville up for 32 points last winter - while Bradley is back from a medical redshirt.
A talented cast of newcomers includes a pair of Division-I transfers.
Kailee Howe is a rangy 5-10 sophomore guard who started several games at Morehead State last season and has a knack for attacking the rim off the dribble while Lindsey Fenwick is a 5-10 wing with an excellent mid-range game. A transfer from Army, she'll join the active roster in the second semester.
Ullom's two freshmen are no strangers to winning as 5-8 Emily Bucon and 5-11 Colleen McCormick helped lead Wheeling Central to four consecutive state tournaments. Bucon, a two-time first team all-stater, can play either guard spot while McCormick, who had more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds with the Knights, will bolster WLU's inside game.
Despite the challenges, Ullom insists he doesn't mind the preseason hype, which also included a No. 21 national ranking in the Women's Division II Bulletin and a near-miss at cracking the Top 25 in the USA Today coaches' poll.
"That kind of attention shows you've made a positive impression with your program so how could that be a bad thing," said Ullom, who is averaging more than 20 victories a season (452-207, .686) heading into his 23rd year at WLU. "We like to play for championships around here anyway."
Former Wheeling Jesuit assistant Kyle Cooper joined Ullom's staff during the summer when former assistant Mike Drahos got the head coaching job at Pitt-Johnstown. Also back on staff are part-time assistants Mark Crow and Joe Key.
Nov. 25: W.Va. State5:30 p.m.
Dec. 5: at Notre Dame5:30 p.m.
Dec. 7: Urbana2 p.m.
Dec. 17: vs. Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras7 p.m.
Dec. 18: at Puerto Rico-Bayamon5 p.m.
Jan. 4: Concord2 p.m.
Jan. 6: UVA-Wise5:30 p.m.
Jan. 9: at Shepherd5:30 p.m.
Jan. 11: at W.Va. Wesleyan2 p.m.
Jan. 13: Glenville State5:30 p.m.
Jan. 18: Fairmont State2 p.m.
Jan. 23: at Wheeling Jesuit5:30 p.m.
Jan. 25: at Urbana2 p.m.
Jan. 30: Notre Dame5:30 p.m.
Feb. 1: Charleston2 p.m.
Feb. 3: at W.Va. State5:30 p.m.
Feb. 6: at Concord5:30 p.m.
Feb. 8: at UVA-Wise2 p.m.
Feb. 13: Shepherd5:30 p.m.
Feb. 15: at Fairmont State2 p.m.
Feb. 20: W.Va. Wesleyan5:30 p.m.
Feb. 22: at Glenville State2 p.m.
March 1: Wheeling Jesuit2 p.m.
March 4-9: at MEC TournamentTBA