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Sancomb, Cards Ranked No. 7

By SHAWN RINE

WHEELING — Danny Sancomb took Wheeling Jesuit to the top of the Mountain East Conference last season. The key now is staying there.

”I always think it’s harder staying at the top,” Sancomb said.

The Cardinals certainly have the horses to do so. They’re coming off a 28-4 season that saw the program receive a No. 1 ranking in the country, a share of the conference crown and it played host to the Atlantic Regional. But WJU was upset in the first round of that tournament, and that has eaten away at the team’s collective stomach during the offseason.

”Obviously we’ve got a bad taste in our mouth from the way last season ended,” Sancomb said. ”But we’ve got to take it one game at a time and play and live in the moment.

”Then hopefully by the end of the season our body of work will position us for the NCAA Tournament.”

Sancomb has to find a way to replace graduated seniors Eric Siefert and Justin Fritts, as well as the leadership of Tim Goff. The coaching staff, which also consists of Jesse Wukasch, Ryan Kostur and Steve Bridgeman, believes it will take a group effort to do so.

What the No. 7 Cards do have though, is the trio of Haywood Highsmith (6-foot-7, 220 pounds), Pat Moseh (6-6, 220) and Kyle Ritz (6-7, 225), which is as good as any group in the MEC.

Highsmith was named a preseason All-America selection after a season in which he led the team in both scoring (14.5) and rebounding (9.4). The junior recorded 13 double-doubles.

”He’s bigger and stronger,” Sancomb said. ”He’s better offensively because he can score with his back to the basket, in transition and from the 3-point line.

”He can beat you off the dribble and he rebounds well.”

Moseh was the conference’s freshman of the year two seasons ago. In 2015 he averaged 11.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

”Pat has the ability to post up and also score in transition,” Sancomb said. ”And he’s a great defender.”

Ritz is perhaps the most underrated player in the MEC. The senior led the conference in field-goal percentage (.620) while averaging 12.9 points and 6.7 rebounds.

”He helps us be able to spread the floor,” Sancomb said. ”People are going to have a greater appreciation for what he can do.

”He attacks the basket and rebounds well.”

Chase Lawson, another senior, has seen an expanded role in the offense early this season. He shot 39 percent from the 3-point line and 88 percent at the free-throw line.

”Chase is off to a great start,” the coach said. ”He was kind of caught between Eric (Siefert) and Justin (Fritts) and there wasn’t a lot of minutes.

”He shoots it very well.”

Junior Drake Goddard (6-2, 205) takes over the full-time point guard duties. A native of Fort Washington, Md., Goddard had a season-high 13 points and six assists last season against Urbana.

”He’s very physical — big and strong,” Sancomb said. ”He gets us into what we need to be in offensively.”

Matt Stewart (6-5, 215) is a rugged senior out of Pittsburgh who gives the Cardinals a physical presence inside. His role should also increase. The same can be said of sophomore Dominique Tham (6-5, 225).

The coaching staff is high on junior-college transfer Jarin Hilson.

”He’s learning the system really quickly and is going to be very, very good,” Sancomb said.

Preston Boswell, a true freshman from Magnolia who is among the all-time leading scorers in both OVAC and West Virginia history, has made a seamless transition to the college game. He scored a career-high 23 points in a victory against Point Park and is averaging 12.3 a night.

”He has the ability to score,” Sancomb said. ”He has a good basketball IQ and plays extremely hard.”

Rounding out the roster are seniors Mark Winters and Jordan Fair, sophomore Zack Duffy, and freshmen Curtis Perz, Zach Collins, Charles Aden, Pierce Griffith, Gavin Porter, Jeremiah Brooks, Alex Kassolis and Ian Oduro.

Nov. 30: Fairmont 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 3: at Shepherd 4 p.m.

Dec. 10: Gannon 2 p.m.

Dec. 15: at Virginia Union 7 p.m.

Dec. 30: at Alderson-Broaddus 7 p.m.

Jan. 3: Charleston 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 5: at W.Va. State 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 8: W.Va. Wesleyan 4 p.m.

Jan. 10: Glenville 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 14: Concord 4 p.m.

Jan. 16: UVa.-Wise 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 19: at West Liberty 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 21: Urbana 4 p.m.

Jan. 26: W.Va. State 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 28: at Charleston 4 p.m.

Feb. 1: at Fairmont 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 4: Shepherd 4 p.m.

Feb. 9: at UVa.-Wise 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 11: at Concord 4 p.m.

Feb. 16: Glenville 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 18: at W.Va. Wesleyan 4 p.m.

Feb. 23: Notre Dame 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 25: West Liberty 4 p.m.

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