Women’s Basketball falls to Charleston, misses tournament

After almost five months of basketball, the West Liberty University (WLU) Women’s basketball season came to an end at the hands of the University of Charleston in the mountain east conference Tournament (MEC) semi-finals. The loss cemented the Hilltoppers final record at 21-9, which was not quite enough to make the NCAA tournament, finishing just outside the bubble of the top-eight teams in the region. Although the ending was quite unfortunate for everyone involved, and not one that was certainly envisioned, the biggest takeaway of this season was the storylines it produced, the player development experience, and the groundwork placed for seasons beyond.

When the season began, West Liberty was ranked fifth overall in the MEC preseason media poll, slotted behind Glenville State University, a team which spent the majority of the season ranked as the top team in the country, the University of Charleston, a team coming off an Elite Eight appearance and primed to make another deep run, Notre Dame College, and the University of Concord. As the regular season concluded, West Liberty finished better than their initial projection, finishing third overall in the conference, only behind Glenville State and Charleston.

Early in the season, WLU had to figure out ways to manage one of the most youthful squads in the entire conference, a team that featured a total of five freshmen and two sophomores on a roster of ten. Head Coach Kyle Cooper and Associate Head Coach Cassie Seth managed this task to near perfection, winning five of their first seven games. Likewise, this youthful squad also showed their capability to win against powerhouses in the conference, beating the University of Charleston twice alone in the regular season. With the season continuing, West Liberty would go on to win a season-high of five or more straight games, twice. The regular season concluded, with the Lady Hilltoppers eclipsing 20 wins for the first time since the 2018-19 season.

The success of this season came from incredible playmaking abilities from the Hilltoppers leaders. Leading the way in this charge was none other than Audrey Tingle, a star-studded graduate student who returned for one final season to help the Hilltoppers find the success they did this year. Tingle produced one of the best seasons in all of college basketball this year, and arguably one of the best since the turn of the millennium, finding herself not only in almost every major statistical category, but also in the history books. Tingle averaged a near triple-double on the season, showcasing a 13.9PPG-10.6RPG-7.1APG stat line. Speaking of triple-doubles, Tingle had six on the season, a feat undoubtedly incredible, and one that broke the single-season triple-double record for NCAA Division II. Likewise, her seven-triple doubles for her career tied the record for the most all-time in a career for Division II as well. Her accolades did not stop here, as she was named the MEC Player of the Week four times during the season, and was a part of the All-MEC First Team, All-MEC Tournament Team and First Team D2CAA All-Region. Although she fell just short of the MEC Player of the Year, Tingle’s season was one of the best all-time throughout all of Division II Women’s basketball and one which has cemented Tingle’s legacy as one of the best to ever play for the black and gold.

West Liberty overall is in utterly tremendous hands in regards to the talent they are bringing back, especially with Coach Cooper and Coach Seth at the helm. Although they are losing Audrey Tingle and fellow Graduate Student forward Molly Bauer, the two are passing the torch to the duo of All-MEC First Team selection Corinne Thomas and MEC Freshman of the Year Bailee Smith. Thomas, who averaged 3.1 made 3PT on 39% 3PT shooting this season, looks to catapult her game even further next season, while Smith, who averaged 15.2PPG this past season, looks to continue her dominance play as a floor general.

With many more returners coming back for the black and gold, including Karly McCutcheon, Arriana Manzay, Paige Julian, Jenna Riccardo, Grace Faulk, and Anna Lucarelli, paired with a talented newcomer class, the Hilltoppers look to continue to develop their game to new heights, in which they saw the second-best scoring offense in the nation and the second-best defense in the conference.

West Liberty Women’s basketball primary core values of family and teamwork showcase what it means to come through the program. Whether players are beginning their first season with the program or buying into the promise with their final year of eligibility, the leaders at the helm showcase time and time again how every program in America should be run, and how this program differentiates itself from the rest. Although it was certainly a tough pill to swallow to have the season ended just short of the ultimate goal, the entire West Liberty coaching staff, along with those returning, are certainly eager for the offseason and can assure followers of the program that the team is on the best path they can possibly follow for the years to come.