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Sancomb Leading Another NCAA Tournament Run

Danny Sancomb is certainly no stranger to the NCAA Tournament.

The long-time basketball coach guided Wheeling University to three consecutive berths in the Division II big dance and advanced to the Sweet 16 once.

Now, after a couple of year hiatus, Sancomb has his team – Cal, Pa. – back in March Madness, as an at-large selection in the Atlantic Regional, which will be held at fellow PSAC member, Indiana, Pa.

“This is very special for us as a program like it was the first time we went when I was at Wheeling,” Sancomb said during a phone interview. “These guys have believed in what we’re doing. They’ve worked their butts off to get to this point.”

California, Pa. opens the tournament against Fairmont State today at noon.

“It feels really good to be back in the tournament, especially considering the path we’ve taken to get here since I was hired,” Sancomb said. “We had our work cut out for us when I was hired.”

He’s not exaggerating that either.

The Vulcans posted a dismal 8-19 record during Sancomb’s first season.

“We dressed six or seven guys for most of that (first) season,” Sancomb recalled. “We’ve just been able to steadily get better.”

With a full complement of players and an influx of talented recruits and a couple of transfers, California finished 19-11 in 2019-20. However, the rebuilding process – like many other things in the world – took a ‘pause’ because of the COVID-19 pandemic. California, Pa. didn’t compete during the 2020-21 school year even though the NCAA held a Division II tournament.

“We won 19 games the year before and really felt like we’d be pretty good, but we didn’t even go to school in the first semester,” Sancomb recalled. “I give our guys a ton of credit because they stayed together and we only lost one player (to transfer) during the year off.”

Clearly, the Vulcans made good use of the practice time.

“We were allowed to practice, but after so many practices guys want to go and play someone else,” Sancomb said. “I think our guys realized how much they love playing the game during the year off.”

California, Pa. finished the regular season at 20-8 and then fell to Indiana, Pa., 70-64, in the quarter-final round of the PSAC Tournament. Thus, the Vulcans found themselves taking some deep breaths when the NCAA announced the Division II tournament field last Sunday night.

“I felt a little bit anxious, but I thought even if IUP and/or West Liberty lost in their conference championship game, we’d still be in,” Sancomb revealed. “It really played itself out because those two won their leagues and no one behind us (in the Atlantic Region rankings) won their leagues (to steal a bid), but you really never know until you hear your name called. At that point, you breathe a sigh of relief.”

The Vulcans were also not disappointed when they saw Fairmont pop up as the sixth seed. They fell to the Falcons, 95-92, on Nov. 18.

“That was a good game that we actually led the majority of the way,” Sancomb recalled. “We played them such a long time ago, that obviously, we’re both much different basketball teams than we were at that point of the season.”

Should the seeds hold true, Sancomb and Cal will play West Liberty, which is the second seed in the region.

Sancomb obviously knows the Hilltoppers well from his time both as a player and coach at Wheeling.

“To get to the Elite 8, every team in this bracket has to win three tough games,” Sancomb pointed out. “We’re the only PSAC team in our half of the bracket, so it’s nice to be playing someone a little different.”

Sancomb – on top of continuing to recruit the high school ranks well – has made good use of the transfer portal to help lead to a quicker rebuild of his Vulcans’ squad.

Actually, both members of California’s starting backcourt – Preston Boswell and Brent Pegram – played for Sancomb at Wheeling before transferring.

Boswell, who was an All-State player and 2,000-point scorer during his prep days at Magnolia, actually played for the Cardinals in the Atlantic Regional final against Fairmont State in 2017. He went to West Liberty and started 21 games for the Hilltoppers during the 2019-20 campaign.

“I love Preston,” Sancomb said. “Whether it’s in the weight room or on the court, he gives us everything he has and is a true leader in our program. He’s sacrificed some of his stats this year just to help us win games.”

This is Boswell’s final season of eligibility, and according to Sancomb, the former Blue Eagle wants to pursue coaching.

“Preston has changed a lot since he played for me at Wheeling,” Sancomb said. “He’s a grown man now and a fabulous leader.”

Actually, Boswell isn’t the only local product on the Vulcans’ roster. Freshman J.C. Maxwell was a standout at Wheeling Central and could eventually make an impact at Cal. He’s been slowed this season by a groin injury, which forced him to miss basically a month.

“J.C. is a worker who has really gotten better,” Sancomb said. “He’s gotten better defensively and if he stays locked in, he’ll have a chance to contribute for us.”

MAKE IT STOP

The West Virginia state girls basketball tournament has received a lot of attention this week. And it goes well beyond the performances of Cameron and Wheeling Park.

Something clearly needs to be done in the Mountain State because the state tournament is being laughed at for the number of lopsided scores the event has produced.

The average margin of victory in the 16 quarterfinal games was 27.3 points.

Personally, I have no issue with the four classes because that genuinely does give teams that never had a chance before an opportunity to make it to the state tournament.

My biggest issue is with taking eight teams to the ‘state tournament.’

How about extending the regional by one round, taking four teams to state and making it a Thursday through Saturday setup?

On top of the scores, the teams that played on Tuesday basically got an entire week out of school. I am as sports minded as anyone, but these kids are student-athletes.

Most importantly, though, the fact of the matter is – and I am sorry if this hurts someone’s feelings – there aren’t 32 teams in the state of West Virginia worthy of being in the state tournament.

And if you don’t believe me, just check the scores.

HOME-RUN HIRES

School officials at Bellaire, Martins Ferry and John Marshall deserve kudos.

All three filled their respective football coaching openings quickly and with quality.

Mark Bonar, Justin Kropka and Mark Cisar are now guiding those programs, respectively. All three should have success and a huge impact.

First, all three are quality coaches as proven by their respective track records, but more importantly all three are quality guys who will have a positive influence on their student-athletes.

I can’t wait to see their teams play this season.

WRESTLING MATCHES

As wrestling season wraps up this weekend with the OHSAA State Tournament unfolding in Columbus, The Times Leader and Wheeling Intelligencer/News-Register continue to see nominations for the top 10 wrestling matches of the last 50 years.

Anyone with a nomination, should please contact me at the email address below with your nomination. Please send some details of the match

SETH’S SCOOPS

ST. CLAIRSVILLE is now just one game away from filling its 2022 football schedule. The Red Devils inked a contract with Division II Columbus Independence to visit Belmont County on Sept. 2 for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

GOT CONFIRMATION from the OHSAA that football games played against Linsly will continue to count in the computer points system utilized to determine playoff qualifiers and seeding. There had been a debate on this because the OHSAA has instituted a rule that games against schools that aren’t members of their respective state associations will not count. However, Linsly gets a pass because it’s a legitimate school and it’s a member of the OVAC, so the OHSAA will not punish schools for playing the Cadets.

NCAA Brackets are formally announced on Sunday. My top seeds are Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky and Arizona.

Staskey can be reached via email at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com or at twitter.com/TLSportsSeth

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