COLUMN Past Teams Foundation For This Run

EVANSVILLE, Ind. – This one is for you, Corey Pelle. You too, Alex Falk.

Shane Maynard? You played a big role, as well.

As West Liberty looks forward to today’s NCAA Division II men’s basketball national championship game against Central Missouri, let us not forget how the past Hilltoppers helped them get to this point. Every house is built from the foundation up.

“I have thought about that, and they are a part of it,” WLU coach Jim Crutchfield said. “They influenced the program in a great way and are one of the reasons why we are here.

“We spend a lot of time together – we’ve got guys that are here four or five years. Generally you are wanting your guys to win, and not just because you’re coaching the team, and I think that helps you as a team and as a coach. That comes from that bond.”

When Crutchfield started out at West Liberty 10 years ago, he inherited a team that had just gone 4-23 and showed no semblemance of the bond that he speaks of. Fast forward and the Hilltoppers are in the middle of their fourth straight 30-victory season.

It all began with Jim’s first recruiting class, the included the likes of Maynard, Dan Binggeli, Chris Banal and Ben Howlett, who currently serves as an assistant coach on the team.

“It was kind of surreal to play here, being a part of what we thought was good winning 20, 25 games a year,” Howlett said. “Now we have to win 30 or it’s a bad year.

“I think (winning a championship) would mean a lot, not just for me, but also all of my old teammates.

“We created a great bond.”

There’s that word again.

One thing you’ll notice about the West Liberty program is even after graduation, guys always seem to stick around. There’s a presence that always remains.

In fact, it’s not all that rare to go to a game at the ASRC and see several – Chris Morrow, John Wolosinczuk, Jordan Fortney and Barry Shetzer to name a few – in attendance these days.

Then there’s Tim Hausfeld, a member of two Final Four teams that never could get over the hump. He is a student assistant on this club.

“It would be a cherry on top of my career at West Lib. It would mean a lot to me,” Hausfeld said. “I feel really lucky to be a part of it.

“It’s been a rough road and it has been really impressive how these guys have battled.”

There’s a big West Liberty contingent expected to make its way to the Ford Center today, and among them will be several former players. That’s just the way it has always been and will continue to be in the Hilltoppers family.

“They do come back and I get texts all the time saying ‘good luck.’ It’s kind of a neat little group here – I wouldn’t call it a cult – but it is special,” Crutchfield said. “They have definitely had an effect on this season and our success.”

Shawn Rine can be reached via email at: srine@theintelligencer.net