Glenville State Up Next for West Liberty Women
Pioneers have won the first three matchups
WHEELING — After losing to Glenville State, 98-85 in the Mountain East Conference Tournament semifinal a little under a week ago, West Liberty women’s coach Kyle Cooper emphasized that his team deserved to play another game. He also mentioned that the next 36 hours were going to be extremely nerve-racking as the Hilltoppers had to wait to see their fate on whether or not they would get a bid for the NCAA Tournament.
“That was very true to form,î” Cooper said. “For everybody, I know, this senior group. Johnie (Olkosky) and I were texting throughout the day Saturday watching the other games. Our team was watching the results between IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) and Kutztown because that game had so much barring. If Kutztown upsets IUP, they get an automatic bid, which either bounces us or Edinboro out.
ìI felt good going into Sunday with only two games to play in the region that if IUP won, I felt confidently we were in and if they didn’t we were right there on the bubble again.”
Fast forward to Sunday night when the team was watching the selection show. Cooper and his West Liberty squad will have another crack at it as they drew the No. 8 seed in the Atlantic Region.
“It was an unbelievable feeling to see those players and the excitement they had when our name came up,î Cooper said. No matter who was the matchup, no matter what seed it was, just to be in, I think it was incredible.”
Cooper also wanted to make sure that his team knew how hard they worked to get to this moment and after all they’ve been through. For them to be listed in the history books at West Liberty.
“The big thing I emphasized for them and I made them all take a look on their way out of the locker room at the banners that sit by our offices and across from the scorers table. Because this team after starting 9-7, wins 12 of 14, loses to only Glenville State, the No. 1 team in the region and they made their mark on this institution. There will be a ë2019í listed on that national tournament banner. They forever in a program that is filled with tradition will be on that. I think itís just incredible for them and itís exciting. I think until I pointed that out to them, it was just that surreal feeling, but then you could see it in the players, what it meant for them to get us back where we are.”
The Hilltoppers (21-9) will face a familiar opponent during the first round of the Atlantic Regional Tournament. For the fourth time this season, West Liberty will take on Glenville State. The Pioneers are the Mountain East Conference champions for both the regular season and tournament. They also claimed the No. 1 seed in the Atlantic Region and will host. Tipoff is today at 5 p.m.
Glenville State swept the Hilltoppers during the regular season and secured a victory over them in the semifinals of the tournaments.
In the most recent outing, the Pioneers led by as many as 26-points with 3:59 remaining in the third quarter only to see West Liberty pull within four with 1:52 left in the game.
However, after a big 3-pointer by Ty Armstrong, the Pioneers were able to pull away hitting free throws down the stretch to put the game away.
“It’s funny, if you look across all three of our games and there’s been major growth since the first time we played them to the second and third,” Cooper said. “I’m hoping to see extended growth and more success (today). The reality is they’re really really good and part of the reason beyond on the fact I think (Coach) Kim Stephens is doing an unbelievable job and she is one of the premier Division II coaches in the country, it’s they’re players are talented, but their players play so hard.
“That’s a direct correlation to her and her team buying in to whether it’s the cliche word ‘culture’ or the system. But beyond the talent, playing hard and coaching, their system wears you and causing to change who you are and shift you identity. We’ve seen that out of all the teams that go against them, we have a lot more success than most. We just still allow a couple minute stretch here or there in different portions of the game, the system impact takes over and we give up too many second chance points, points off turnovers.”
While both teams know each other very well. There something about this matchup that is a little bit different than the other three.
“This week having five days of preparation leading up to playing them is huge for us,” Cooper said. “We were able to take an hour to an hour, 15 minutes every day plus some time with film to really grind out and prepare the way we truly want to prepare for this team. I feel very good about it. As I said before, they’re an unbelievably good team, very well-coached and we have a true challenge on our hands. But we have replaced the word ‘challenge’ with ‘opportunity.'”