Though the West Liberty University men’s basketball team came up a few minutes shy of hoisting its first national championship trophy this past Saturday at the NCAA DII Championship Game, the Hilltop enjoyed an entire season of winning support from fans, alumni, students and staff.
Beginning with the first game back on Nov. 11, 2013 and ending with the Toppernation parade cheering the return of Coach Jim Crutchfield and his team, the 2013-2014 season was one for the record books. WLU entered the final game ranked No. 7 and No. 1 in the hearts of its hometown.
“West Liberty University put on an amazing show. This kind of basketball and teamwork doesn’t happen easily. We are so proud of our Toppers and their performance in the Elite 8,” said loyal fan and WLU donor Jack Adams ’63, who followed the Toppers all season long. Though this was WLU’s first championship game, the Hilltoppers were playing in their fourth straight Elite Eight and have played in three of the last four Final Fours.
But the big win was not to be, as No. 20 Central Missouri caught fire down the stretch and rallied to an 84-77 victory in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight national championship game at the Ford Center. Still there are many successes to be counted.
For example, about 1,200 WLU fans attended the championship in Evansville, Ind. Many traveled by buses that were privately paid for by local sponsors who stepped up to support the University. Top donors included Dr. Dan Joseph; Dr. Bob Fanning; Sam Kusick; Jim Gardill; WesBanco; Wheeling Subaru; Gompers & Associates; The Cornerstone Group; Berry, Kessler, Crutchfield, Taylor & Gordon; the Town Council of West Liberty; and an anonymous Wheeling businessman. Additional contributions came from alumni and friends.
Those who couldn’t attend the game in person, gathered at TJ’s Sports Garden, Pickles and other local taverns and restaurants to cheer on the team. It was a magical moment of fan support across the city.
“The display of support from the community meant so much to the University. West Liberty enjoys a tremendous support from the community, alumni and staff. It’s kind of like a family,” said Angela Zambito Hill, director of development. “Dan Joseph not only served as a donor, but also helped garner support of additional sponsors.”
Additionally, a 5:30 p.m., Sunday, March 30 parade was put together quickly to welcome the team bus back to Wheeling. Despite short notice, hundreds of fans of all ages turned out to wave their Topper towels and cheer the returning Hilltoppers. Escorting the team was the Ohio County Sheriff Department, Wheeling Police Department, West Liberty Campus Police, West Liberty Town Police, West Liberty Volunteer Firefighters and the Wheeling Fire Department.
The game was watched by an estimated audience of 3.092 million people, translating into unmatched WLU brand promotion and advertising.
“Our reach during the 2014 Elite 8 has been huge. Our analytics are through the roof and we are so proud of our team! West Liberty University, its students, staff and alumni have the right to brag,” said Vice President of Institutional Advancement Jason Koegler.
Senior Cedric Harris West Liberty University senior All-American Cedric Harris became the subject of a feature story written by Paul Bowker that is currently posted on the NCAA website.
Bowker spoke with Harris a few minutes after the Hilltoppers’ magical season came to an end with an 84-77 loss to Central Missouri in Saturday afternoon’s NCAA Division II national championship game.
Still battling through the emotions of a difficult loss, Harris credited his teammates and coaches with helping him develop into a consensus NCAA Division II All-American in the three seasons after transferring to West Liberty from nearby Wheeling Jesuit.
“I love everything about West Liberty (and) I love everything about coach (Jim) Crutchfield,” Harris told the reporter. “It’s just been an amazing journey.”
Here’s a direct link to Bowker’s feature on the NCAA website: End of the Line for Hilltoppers’ Harris.
And to read another amazing story published by NCAA website, check out Dyer Family Pulls Off NCAA Double.
To read WLU’s Don Clegg’s sports coverage of the Title Game, please click here.
Another proud alumnus who joined the team in Evansville was Charlie Annett ’66. He has this to say about the Hilltoppers:
“I travelled to the DII Championship game in Evansville from Ft. Lauderdale, because I realized it could have been a once in a lifetime chance. I was not disappointed. I was very proud to tell people I was from West Liberty. The team played hard and smart, and it was exciting for me to be there in person to see the action.”
“Now, I am spoiled. I believe that Coach Crutchfield and the returning players will give me another “once in a lifetime chance” sometime soon.”