WLU Women Beat Bobcats

Photo Provided by West Liberty Athletics West Liberty’s Marissa Brown (15) drives to the basket while West Virginia Wesleyan’s Mari Stewart guards.

WEST LIBERTY–Crashing the boards on defense is something that West Liberty coach Kyle Cooper stresses day in and day out.

His Hilltoppers made him proud on Monday as they collected 35 defensive rebounds and 44 overall as they brought a home-opening win to the Hilltop with a 78-64 win over West Virginia Wesleyan at the Academic Sports & Recreation Complex.

“I think it all came down to defensive rebounding,” Cooper said. “Our offense is going to naturally generate some points because we have what I consider to be one of the best 3-point shooting teams across the country. But for us, it always comes down to defense. The biggest thing is rebounding because we have to clean up the boards in order to run and get in our transition.”

The Toppers started 1-3 on the season against a rigorous slate but those tough tests have made them a stronger team and they showcased that in the home-opener.

“We are coming off a 1-3 start but we did have a pretty tough strength of schedule to start,” Cooper said. “I think that helped us prepare.

“For us, it’s about our program growing each game. That’s what we have to do. Learning to win is so important for us and taking care of business at home and showing the home crowd who we are going to be is huge. It increases our following and shows them how passionate we are about this.”

W.Va. Wesleyan captured an early 4-2 edge but West Liberty quickly regained the lead and distanced itself from the visitors with a 7-0 run to create a 9-4 cushion with 3:50 left in the opening frame.

The Bobcats cut the margin to 11-7 but the Toppers excited the crowd with an 11-0 spurt, extending their lead to 22-7.

The lone senior on the West Liberty roster made her presence felt as McKenna Shives poured in 12 points on a perfect 4-4 from behind the 3-point line in the second quarter to help deliver a 39-27 advantage at halftime.

“I think we are very deep at the three,” Cooper said. “It was great to see McKenna get hot there. She is a kid that led the country in 3-point shooting last year in a down season.

“For her as a senior, I want this year to go well, not just for the program, not just for the new era and not just for the start of this team but for her. She is our lone senior and she has been through a lot and it means a lot to me to see her success, individually.”

After Olivia Belknap connected from beyond the arch, giving West Liberty a 51-38 lead with 5:28 left in the third, the Bobcats ended the period on a 13-6 run to close the deficit to 57-51.

In the huddle between quarters, Cooper reminded his team of what they focus on the most and the Toppers responded with a 12-2 run to begin the final frame, taking a 69-53 lead.

“Again, it came down to defense and rebounding,” Cooper said. “I made a promise to them in that huddle and I said that if you can find a way to control the boards right now, you won’t lose the game.

“Even though the game tightened up out of the third, it was still coming down to the success they were having on the boards.”

The Hilltoppers gathered 11 defensive rebounds in the fourth quarter and never looked back to snap a two-game losing streak.

Marissa Brown recorded 19 points to lead the Hilltoppers, while Shives netted 14.

Brandi Beader turned in 13 points and seven rebounds, all coming on the defensive end of the floor.

Johnie Olkosky led West Liberty with nine boards, including eight on defense.