Hilltopper football fans will be treated to the first home night game in Russek Field history while the women’s soccer team can’t wait to play its first home game at the brand-new West Liberty Soccer Complex.
The latest upgrade at Russek Field came over the summer with the installation of a lighting system. The lights come on Oct. 31 when Coach Roger Waialae’s football team hosts the University of Charleston in a 7 p.m. kickoff on Halloween Night.
Waialae and his gridders should have more tricks than treats for all 11 opponents this fall as the veteran coach welcomes back a strong nucleus from last year’s team, which highlighted the seventh winning season in the past eight years with a pair of wins against regionally-ranked opponents.
Several starters return from an opportunistic defense that led the nation with six interception returns for touchdowns and ranked among the top 10 in interceptions and tackles-for-loss. The offense gained valuable game experience and should get a boost from a solid group of redshirts and a bumper recruiting crop.
“We played very well defensively a year ago,” Waialae said, “but we’re not just looking to be good again. We have a lot of guys back and we’re challenging them to be better. Offensively, we need to do a better job of executing and taking care of the football but the talent is there. It’s just a matter of learning to play together and developing a level of trust in each other.”
Head coach Barry Christmas and the WLU women’s soccer team opened some eyes in their first varsity season last fall, picking up the program’s first win and first conference win despite playing all their games on the road while construction continued on the West Liberty Soccer Complex adjacent to the north end of campus.
That patience has been rewarded as the women’s soccer team now has a beautiful new home featuring a fully-computerized irrigation system and extensive drainage network along with an electronic scoreboard and one of the region’s best natural grass playing surfaces. The first game at the West Liberty Soccer Complex is set for Sept. 7 when the Hilltoppers host Chowan (N.C.) University.
Each of the Hilltoppers’ 16 varsity sports squads will be playing its first season in a new conference home. West Liberty joined 11 other like-minded institutions as charter members of the Mountain East Conference and the MEC was approved as the NCAA’s newest Division II all-sports league in February.
The women’s tennis, volleyball and cross country teams will also make their MEC debuts this fall.
Coach Heather Gallagher’s women’s tennis team comes into the 2013 season as an established Atlantic Region power following back-to-back runner-up finishes in league play and NCAA Tournament bids.
Coach Kayla Fetsko will build on the momentum from her first year at the volleyball helm after leading the Lady Hilltoppers to 14 wins, the most by a WLU volleyball team in more than a decade.
Coach Eric McLaughlin is counting on veteran leadership and a solid recruiting class to help the Hilltoppers’ men’s and women’s cross country squads remain competitive as they transition to the new conference.