Black and Gold nation officially returns to the hardwood this weekend but not without challenges. Coming off winning seasons, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams enter the new year with high expectations.
The Lady Toppers begin the 2019-20 season with a four-game homestand. Mercyhurst and California (Pa.) University travel to the hilltop for the annual MEC/PSAC Challenge, followed by a visit from Clarion University and Winston-Salem State. With a 21-5 record last season, WLU was able to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid in three years. Despite losing three starters, expectations remain high for the Lady Toppers. In the latest prepreason poll, Mountain East Conference coaches rank West Liberty at No. 4. Head Coach Kyle Cooper will look to last year starters, Taylor Johnson and Audrey Tingle, to lead the charge.
Johnson enters her final season on the hilltop after receiving First-team All-MEC honors during the 2018-19 season. Tingle, regarded as one of the best playmakers in the MEC, ranked Top-10 nationally in assists each of the past two seasons. The Lady Toppers begin their season-long journey Friday evening when they host the Mercyhurst Lakers. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. in the ASRC.
Head Coach Ben Howlett and his Hilltopper team opens up their season on the road. West Liberty visits the TarHeel state for the Atlantic Region Crossover before heading to New York for a one-game pit stop. Similar to the Lady Toppers, the men’s team earned an NCAA Tournament bid last season, falling one game short of the Elite Eight. Nevertheless, coaches took notice and see promise in this young Hilltopper squad. The Black and Gold continue their 144-week run in the NCAA Top 25 poll with a No. 4 ranking to begin the season. WLU are also the favorites to finish atop of the MEC this season.
After bursting onto the scene last season and earning MEC Freshman of the Year honors, Sophomore guard, Will Yoakum, is ready to continue the highlight show. All-American guard, Dalton Bolon, will look to raise the bar even higher after leading West Liberty in scoring during the 2018-19 campaign. West Liberty visits Mansfield University in Raleigh, North Carolina on Saturday for their first regular-season matchup.
Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. and the showdown will be available for streaming on Hilltoppersports.com. WLU fans won’t get their first live look at this year’s squad until Wednesday, Nov. 20 when Salem University travels to the hilltop for the Black and Gold home-opener.
Be sure to grab a copy of The Trumpet every Thursday for the latest on Hilltopper basketball!