Author Archives: sportstalkonthehilltop

About sportstalkonthehilltop

My name is Tony Viola and I'm a senior at West Liberty University. I'm a sports journalism major and I'm creating this blog for the university newspaper, The Trumpet.

Toppers Defense Dominate

For years it seemed all West Liberty had to do was outscore their opponent to win. Zack Amedro would throw for 400 yards and five touchdowns and that would be the game. Besides for Clay Beeler, not much was said about the Topper defense.

Now it’s a different story.

WLU (2-1, 1-0 WVC) has been able to double the amount of wins last year in the first three games of the 2012 season behind a stingy defense that only allowed West Virginia Wesleyan (0-3, 0-1) seven rushing yards in last Saturday’s 33-16 victory.

After the first three weeks of the season, coach Roger Walaiae’s defense ranks first or second in six statistical catigories in the West Virginia Conference, including total defense (2nd at 272.3 ypg).

“Our defense is good,” Walaiae said. “I don’t know another way to put it.”

Leading the way for the Hilltoppers is Marco Ricchetti. The hard-hitting weak saftey leads the team and ranks seventh in the WVC in tackles (25), is ninth in passes defended (3) and 11th in tackles for loss (4). His average of over six solo stops per game puts him tied for 24th in the nation.

Ricchetti earned WVC Defenisve Player of the Week honors after posting a game high 11 tackles with four going for a loss in West Liberty’s 14-13 win against Virginia State (1-2). The junior also grabbed a key interception in the VSU end-zone late in the first half to stop a potential Trojan score. 

“We worked together as a defense,” the Martins Ferry native said. “That’s how I got my award. The whole defense played good as a unit.”

The squad has seemed to have gelled together pretty well as the group only allows a little over 70 rushing ypg while coming together to bring down the opposing quarterback eight times.

Though Ricchetti headlines the secondary, the best part of the defense has to be the play of the guys in the trenches.

One of the few bright spots of last season, the defensive line makes the Topper defense go round.

Lead by All-WVIAC honoree Leonidas Redding, the group has accounted for five of the team’s eight sacks and 14 of the team’s 24 tackles in the backfield.

The d-line should be licking their chops heading into Saturday’s game at Fairmont as the Falcons have already given up eight sacks on the season.

FSU (0-3, 0-1) is led by running back Daniel Monroe, who is coming off his first 100-yard game of the season. The sophomore rushed for 112 yards in last weekend’s 24-17 loss to Bowie State.

The Falcons ground game averages 95 ypg, but has yet to find the endzone this season, a complete 180 from last year where Fairmont finished third in the WVC in rushing touchdowns (24).

The matchup that could prove deadly for the host team is the inexpeirence in the middle of the offenisve line. Both the left guard and center are underclassmen (freshman and sophomore, respectviely). That’s something that Redding and nose tackle Nate Maleski can take advantage of.

Look for plenty of huge hits and a big defensive effort as the Hilltoppers are looking to beat Fairmont for the seventh time in the last eight meetings.

Kick off for Saturday’s game is 1 p.m. You can catch all the action on WLU-TV 14 comcast channel 14.

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Toppers 7th in preseason poll

The West Virginia Conference coaches have released their 2012 preseason poll with the West Liberty Hilltoppers slatted in at the No. 7 spot.

WLU began last year ranked as the second best team in the WVIAC before finishing the season with a 1-10 record and in eighth place in the conference. So really, the way the coaches rank each team is pretty much based on how each team finished the year before. Like all preseason poll, it’s based on what they see on paper.

From what I see on paper, the Hilltopper should fair better then they did last year. As I’ve noted before, it all depends on the performance of the offense line.

The football team will report to campus on Aug. 1 to begin their preseason camp. The Hilltoppers kick off the 2012 season at home on Sept. 1 against Catawba (N.C.).

2012 WVIAC Coaches’ Preseason Poll

Place Team (First Place Votes) Total Points
1. Shepherd (6) 79
2. Concord (3) 71
3. West Virginia Wesleyan 55
4. Charleston 50
5. Fairmont State 46
6. Glenville State 45
7. West Liberty 31
8. Seton Hill 16
9. West Virginia State 15
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Hilltopper Sports Update

The Fall 2012 semester is a little over a month away, so now is a good of time as ever to get caught up on all the latest sports news happening on the hilltop.

West Liberty welcomes women’s soccer.

Women’s soccer was established as a club sport last year, but will now be a full fledged varsity sport starting in the fall.

”We are excited but there are still a lot of things to be worked out,” West Liberty athletics director Jim Watson told The Intelligencer’s Josh Strope. ”We think there is an interest in soccer and we have felt not having a program has held us back.”

Coach Barry Christmas will lead the Hilltoppers into battle as the women kick off their season on August 26 against Franciscan University. The Hilltoppers will play 20 games with 11 conference games, including against rival Wheeling Jesuit on October 6 in a Saturday night showdown on the Cardinals’ campus.

WLU is also slated to host six games, but unless a field is prepared to meet NCAA requirements, the team may have to play most if not all of its game on the road. The team is leasing the land adjacent to the Kovalick field, just beneath a local cemetery. Construction on the field is under way, but it is still questionable if the field will be ready for West Liberty’s home opener against the University of Pikeville on August 31.

”It remains to be seen,” Watson said. ”Like any program, the facilities are the biggest thing. We have to get those in order to be really sure how this is going to work out.”

Eric Burkle takes over Hilltopper baseball.

After 30 years of coaching West Liberty baseball, five-time West Virginia Conference Baseball Coach of the Year and West Liberty Hall of Famer Robert “Bo” McConnaughy has announced his retirement. Assistant coach Eric Burkle will take the reins of head coach.

“Coach Burkle is obviously very familiar with the program and our student-athletes and is highly respected by coaches throughout the conference,” WLU athletics director Jim Watson told hilltoppersports.com. “We anticipate a very smooth transition and are very excited to have Coach Burkle leading us into the future.”
 
Burkle is also the head man for the Hilltopper women’s golf team and plans to stay in that position for the 2012-13 season. In his first year at the helm, Burkle was named the WVIAC Women’s Golf Coach of the Year.
 
Burkle joined McConnaughy’s staff in 2008 after he help lead Wheeling Central High School to back-to-back state baseball championships. 
 
“I want to thank Jim Watson and Bo and everybody who supported me and believed in me enough to give me this opportunity,” Burkle said. “Bo has been a terrific mentor to me over the past five years. He’s prepared me in every aspect of coaching at this level, not just the coaching side but the business and personal side, as well. Bo has always looked out for me as a coach and a person and I’ll always be grateful for that.”
 
WLU to leave WVIAC in 2013.
 
On June 18th, nine schools contacted WVIAC commissioner Barry Blizzard to inform him of their intentions to withdraw from the West Virginia Conference and form a new regional all-sports conference.

The University of Charleston, Concord University, Fairmont State University, Glenville State College, Seton Hill University, Shepherd University, West Liberty University, West Virginia State University, and West Virginia Wesleyan made up the nine of the 15 schools in the conference that will be departing.

The move is not scheduled to take place until the 2013-14 academic year.

Reid Amos, Vice President of Broadcasting at West Liberty and spokesman for the new conference, said the move was fueled by the desire to create a conference of like-minded football playing schools.

“There’s been a growing divide between the institutions that play football and the majority of the others that do not,” Amos said.   “This is not a new discussion. There have been rumors going back for more than a decade that this league could split.”

The new conference has yet to be named.

Welcome to West Liberty.

Several Hilltopper sports teams have added new recruits to their rosters.

Doug Sizemore, a multi-sport standout and state wrestling runner-up from William Monroe High School, has signed to wrestle collegiately at West Liberty University. Sizemore finished his career with a 111-52 record at William Monroe, setting school records for career victories and career takedowns (260).

Devin Hoehn, a first-team All-West Virginia Class AAA point guard who led Parkersburg High School to the West Virginia “Final Four” last winter, is the newest member of the West Liberty men’s basketball program. Hoehn finished the year with 566 points and was honored as the Mountain State Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
 
WLU head women’s basketball coach Lynn Ullom has announced the signing of Jasmin Kiley, a first-team all-state guard from Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas, Nev. The 5-6 backcourter was one of only three Nevada seniors nominated for McDonald’s All-America honors and was also considered for Nevada’s Gatorade State Player of the Year Award. NextLevel Sports Service, Inc. of San Diego, Calif. ranked her No. 68 among the nation’s Top 100 Girls’ Basketball Seniors in the Class of 2012.
 
And men’s golf coach Mike Ricci has announced the signing of Jacob Carpenter, a member of back-to-back West Virginia state championship teams at Wheeling Park High School. The talented linkster finished his Wheeling Park career with a sparkling 575-48 (.923) record in individual matches.
 
 
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Can Hilltopper Football Bounce Back?

As the spring sports season wraps up on the hilltop, I can’t help but to think what the fall sports season will bring. Most importantly, how will the football team bounce back?

After graduating 26 seniors, the Hilltoppers finished with a 1-10 record, the worst so far under coach Roger Waialae.

It was the turnovers that plagued the Black and Gold all season long as the offense gave up the ball 40 times (25 interceptions, 15 fumbles). New starting quarterback L.D. Crow never seemed comfortable in the pocket, being sacked 43 times while the unit as a whole only converted 23 percent of its third down attempts. The offensive line couldn’t stay healthy as there were new starters in the trenches every week.

With the lack of production from the offense, the defense struggled as well. The squad allowed 34 ppg and 78 percent of opponents trips to the red zone were turned into points (54 percent were touchdowns).

But that was last year.

This year, the West Liberty football team will once again become a dominate power in the West Virginia Conference, right? Well, there’s always a chance.

According to The Trumpet sports reporter Nathan Johnson,  Crow will return as the Hilltoppers starting quarterback. The junior finished last season fourth in the WVC in average yards per game, fourth in total offense, and ninth in passing efficiency. No. 7 ended the year with 2,481 passing yards, a 54.8 completion percentage, and a 11:23 touchdown to interception ratio.

Eliminate the interceptions and that’s not horrible quarterback play considering the injuries to the offensive line and his first year being in a new system.

”I’ve been very pleased with L.D.’s progress [in spring drills],” Waialae said to hilltoppersports.com. ”He’s making good decisions, taking care of the ball and finishing off drives.”

According to Waialae, Crow’s only interception in spring practice came during the Black & Gold Game.

”We throw a lot at every practice and that was his first interception of the spring.”

The Black & Gold Game also showed that Crow and Brandon Schroeder will still be a dangerous duo next season. The wide out hauled in five passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.

Schroeder had a break out season last year as he posted only the 10th 1,000 yard receiving season in school history. The sophomore ranked second in the WVC with 76 catches for 1,007 yards and 7 TDs. He was the only first team All-WVIAC selection from the hilltop.

However, Waialae says he plans to take some pressure of of the passing game and focus more on the running game next year.

”We made a commitment during the off-season to get better in the run game and I think we’re heading in the right direction there.”

Junior-college transfer Kenjay Trueblood is looking like he will be the feature back next fall. He was the spring game’s leading rusher with 7 carries for 55 yards.

”Kenjay ran the ball pretty well today and Alex [Adams] had a couple of good carries and has had a very good spring,” Waialae said.

But the best play of the spring has definitely come from the defensive line. Arguably the top unit last year, the squad looks just as dominate this season.

Leonidas Redding returns after receiving All-Conference Honorable Mention laurels as a junior. The nose guard was a run-stopping force for the Hilltoppers’, getting 9 starts and seeing action in every game. Redding ranked among the team leaders with 37 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss and three  sacks.

”I thought the defensive line was dominant at times,” Waialae said. ”Nate Maleski has had a great spring in the middle and I think Josh Quinn’s found a home at defensive end.”

Kyle Agustine will once again head the linebackers. Despite leading the team in total tackles (91), tackles-for-loss (11) and solo tackles (53), the junior did not receive All-Conference honors. He’ll be looking to change that this season.

All-Conference Honorable Mention honorees Marco Ricchetti and Justin Black will highlight the secondary.  Ricchetti ended the season second on the team in total tackles (71) and blocked three field goals.

Despite Ricchetti’s solid sophomore campaign, the free safety will have to step up his play next season. The Hilltoppers lost returning All-WVIAC strong safety Alec Wood to a knee injury during a non-contact drill midway through spring practice. The former Wheeling Park all-stater will redshirt this fall and return in 2013.

With 17 returning starters and 42 lettermen coming back, West Liberty seems to have some good pieces in place for next season. All except for one area: offensive line.

If the Hilltoppers can’t find good offensive line support, this team will struggle. It’s hard to run the ball when there’s no blocking and it’s hard to throw when 300 pound lineman are chasing you down. And it’s hard on the defense to constantly defend a short field.

Should the offensive line step up, this team could greatly improve its record from last year and take the next step into once again becoming a West Virginia Conference power. But if not, look for this team to struggle through the 2012 season.

2012 West Liberty Football Schedule

Sept. 1:      Catawba (NC)             (3-8, 2-5 SAC)
Sept. 8:      at Virginia State       (5-5, 4-3 CIAA)
Sept. 15:    W.Va. Wesleyan       (9-2, 6-2 WVIAC)
Sept. 22:    at Fairmont State    (7-4, 4-4 WVIAC)
Sept. 29:    Glenville State          (5-6, 5-3 WVIAC)
Oct. 6:         at W.Va. State           (9-2, 6-2 WVIAC)
Oct. 13:       Shepherd                    (9-2, 6-2 WVIAC)
Oct. 20:      Charleston                  (5-6, 5-3 WVIAC)
Oct. 27:      at Seton Hill               (1-10, 1-7 WVIAC)
Nov. 3:       at Concord                  (7-4, 7-1 WVIAC Champions)
Nov. 10:    UNC-Pembroke         (8-3)

Kick-off  time for all games is 1:00 p.m.

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NFL Mock Draft

With the NFL Draft being tomorrow night, I’ll share with you what I believe the first round will look like:

Round One

1.     Colts, Andrew Luck, QB Stanford

2.     Redskins, Robert Griffin III, QB Baylor

3.     Vikings, Matt Kalil, OT USC

4.     Browns, Trent Richardson, RB Alabama

5.     Buccaneers, Morris Claiborne, CB LSU

6.     Rams, Justin Blackmon, WR Oklahoma State

7.     Jaguars, Quinton Coples, DE North Carolina

8.     Dolphins, Michael Floyd, WR Notre Dame

9.     Panthers, Fletcher Cox, DT Mississippi State

10. Bills, Riley Reiff, OT Iowa

11. Cheifs, Ryan Tannehill, QB Texas A&M

12. Seahawks, Luke Kuechly, MLB Boston College

13. Cardinals, Mike Adams, OT Ohio State

14. Cowboys, Mark Barron, SS Alabama

15. Eagles, Michael Brockers, DT LSU

16. Jets, Courtney Upshaw, OLB Alabama

17. Bengals, Stephon Gilmore, CB South Carolina

18. Chargers, Whitney Mercilus, DE Illinois

19. Bears, David DeCastro, OG Stanford

20. Titans, Melvin Ingram, OLB South Carolina

21. Bengals, Dre Kirkpatrick, FS/CB Alabama

22. Browns, Andre Branch, DE Clemson

23. Lions, Peter Konz, OL Wisconsin

24. Steelers, Cordy Glenn, OG Georgia

25. Broncos, Dontari Poe, DT Memphis

26. Texans, Zach Brown, OLB North Carolina

27. Patriots, Devon Still, DT Penn State

28. Packers, Kendall Reyes, DE Connecticut

29. Ravens, Coby Fleener, TE Stanford

30. 49ers, Dont’a Hightower, MLB Alabama

31. Patriots, Stephen Hill, WR Georgia Tech

32. Giants, Jonathan Martin, OT Stanford

 

It looks like the top six picks are pretty much set in stone, but I think things will get interesting with the No. 7 pick. The Jaguars have a lot of holes that need to be filled and don’t be surprised if they trade the pick. Jacksonville defiantly needs a pass rusher but Coples has a lot of question marks surrounding his name. And on the other side of the ball, Michael Floyd would be a nice target for second year quarterback Blaine Gabbert to get familiar with.  But again, don’t be surprised if they trade the pick to someone eyeing Ryan Tannehill (say Cowboys?) or another team trying to move up (like the Chargers to snag up Mark Barron).

And for my sleeper pick: Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall University. As being a former member of the Thundering Herd, I’ve seen this guy play a lot. Last year he racked up 77 total tackles, 11 sacks and forced seven fumbles. He is an explosive athlete who has the versatility to fit the defensive scheme of the team who selects him, meaning he can put his hand on the ground in a 4-3 or he can stand up and play OLB in a 3-4. He does struggle at times in the run game locating the ball carrier but he’ll get better with experience. A team could really cash in on Curry in the second round. I can see the 6’3, 266 pound end playing a role similar to what Aldon Smith did his rookie year. The 49ers used Smith mainly on third down or in obvious passing situations as a pure pass rusher, resulting in Smith setting the record for sacks for a rookie and runner-up in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.

With the event now being on Thursday night in prime time, expect anything. Teams will be looking to make the ‘sexy’ pick to excite fans, who undoubtedly will be watching the spectacle  that the NFL Draft has now become. But GMs need to keep in mind that just because you please your fans in April, doesn’t mean you’ll have their support in January when the playoffs roll around.

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Congratulations!

The Trumpet would like to thank all those who attended The Spring Giveaway. Many students received t-shirts and coupons while others won some big prizes. Sophomore Luke Tacosik won a WLU men’s basketball team autograph basketball while Jordan Hayden and Danny Davis were picked to win the Sodexo gift baskets. Jaymine Matteson, Sarah Relyea, Joe Strohmeyer, Allie Mills, and Dawn Herron will enjoy a school play courtesy of Hilltop Players. Also picking up prizes were Anna Phillips, Karin Freese, Emma Romomanowski, Zach Heaton and Nathan Johnson who all won five dollar gift cards to Old Navy. The Trumpet staff and the COM 477 class would also like to thank our sponsors who generously donated to the promotion.

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Next Year

You can’t win them all. And you can’t predict them all for that matter. So Stonehill -a.k.a “the speedbump” – broke West Liberty’s axle. There’s always next year.

For the Hilltoppers, that is a comforting thought. WLU will return it’s entire starting lineup next season plus a few key players from the bench.

Even though it is months away, Jim Cruthfield’s ninth season as head coach is looking like it could be his best yet.

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The Elite Eight: Stonehill

Who are they?

Stonehill College is a selective Catholic college located near Boston in Easton, Massachusetts. The Skyhawks (24-8) captured thier second regional title in program history to advance to the Elite Eight in Highland Heights, Ky. Stonehill made it to the Elite Eight for the first time in 2006 during head coach David McLaughlin’s third season at the helm. The No. 3-seeded Skyhawks broke a 23-year conference title drought and captured its fourth Northeast-10 Conference Championship with a 73-61 win against the No. 4-seeded University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Players to Watch

Junior guard Brian Hamor has led the Skyhawks all season and was named the East Regional MVP after he averaged 22.3 points per game over the Skyhawks three regional victories. Hamor is only one of three players on the team to start in all 32 games thus far and leads Stonehill with 14.2 ppg.

Senior Andre Tongo, in his first season as a starter, is averaging 13.3 points and 4.9 rebounds and was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Northeast-10 Conference tournament. Fellow senior Pat Lee is averaging 10.8 points and 8.6 rebounds and was picked as the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

How will they fair against the Hilltoppers?

These two teams will meet in an Elite Eight matchup on Wednesday, March 21 at noon at the Bank of Kentucky Center and this game has the potential to be a blowout. Stonehill is the only team to advance to the Elite Eight without getting a single vote in the last NABC coaches’ Top 25 poll. That should sit well with the No. 3-ranked Hilltoppers, who are coming off an 11 point victory against No. 7 Shaw. West Liberty also is averaging a shooting percentage of 55 in its last three games. Consider the Skyhawks a roadbump on the Hilltoppers’ way to the Final Four.

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The Elite Eight

With the West Liberty men’s basketball team making its second consecutive Elite Eight appearence, I’ve decided to come up with a new series called ‘The Elite Eight’.

This series will run under the same format as the ‘Taking a Look Around the Region’ segments. It will include who the team is, how they got this far, and a few key players that may give the Hilltoppers some fits.

Check back often to see updates on the teams West Liberty will face as it continues its journey to the National Championship.

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Deja Vu

With 1:03 remaining in the Atlantic Region championship game, Alex Falk hit a 3-point bomb that put the final nail in Shaw’s coffin. The Hilltoppers were up by 12 points and there was nothing the Bears could do to get back in the game.

Then the surreal idea came over all 1,174 fans at the ASRC: the West Liberty men’s basketball team was heading back to the Elite Eight.

But will the ending be different this time around?

Rewind one year. The No. 1-ranked Hilltoppers just won their 32nd straight game and John Wolosinczuk was climbing on top of press row to hold up the Atlantic Region championship trophy for all to see. It would have been crazy to think that he would not be holding up another championship trophy 10 days later.

But sometimes crazy things happen. And when BYU-Hawaii beat West Liberty in the Final Four, few thought the Hilltoppers, who would be losing four senior starters, would make a similar run the following year.

But sometimes crazier things happen. 

Here we are, one year later, and the No. 3-ranked Hilltoppers are just three games away from being national champions.

And you want to know something even crazier then just the idea of that? I like the Hilltoppers’ chances of becoming national champions this year better then I did last season.

Call me crazy, but this team right now is playing basketball at a high, if not the highest, level possible.

Look at West Liberty’s past two games. The Hilltoppers beat W.V. Wesleyan for the fourth consecutive time this year with a 99-69 stomping. To beat a team four times in one season is a hard enough task on its own, but to score 99 points on the best scoring defense in the WVIAC? That’s pretty impressive. And consider the fact that these two teams just met a little over a week ago in the WVIAC tournament semifinal where the Hilltoppers managed a 87-77 victory in a highly contested battle. The score was definitely not indicative of how close that game really was.   

Then there was Tuesday night’s 89-78 win against No. 7-ranked Shaw. Alex Falk, West Liberty’s leading scorer, did not score a single point in the first half of play and the Hilltoppers were only down one, 43-42, at intermission.

West Liberty led by as many as 10 points on three different occasions, but the Bears were able to get back in it with some easy lay ups. And I mean easy. As soon as a Hilltopper player would shoot the ball, Alvin Malkin, the Atlantic Region Player of the Year, would race down towards Shaw’s basket and catch a half court pass to put in the uncontested lay up.

Coach Jim Crutchfield called Shaw one of, if not the most talented team in the nation and despite Falk’s first half shortcomings and the team giving up easy lay ups, the Hilltoppers still won by 11. Eliminate those West Liberty setbacks and the Hilltoppers might have won by 30 points for the third straight game.

WLU has a lot of momentum heading into its Elite Eight matchup against Stonehill College on March 21 at noon at the Bank of Kentucky Center in Highland Heights, Ky. I have a feeling this train isn’t going to stop until its conductor is holding up the national championship trophy.

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