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Clones R Us: Toppers keep on keeping on

March 14, 2012
By RICH GIBSON - Times Leader Sports Writer (rgibson@timesleaderonline.com) , Times Leader

The very idea.

Lose four 1,000-point scorers and plan on a slow process of rebuilding your program. It doesn't happen overnight. But it does at West Liberty.

It's all about playing the 'system' under Jim Crutchfield, the man with the plan. He almost defiantly recruits a number of clones, assigns each a different number, then turns them loose where they operate at the speed of light.

Article Photos

THE WEST Liberty basketball team celebrates with the Atlantic Regional Championship trophy after a 89-78 victory against Shaw. The Hilltoppers will now take part in the NCAA?Division II?Elite 8 next week in Kentucky.

If you're a 6-8, 245-pound on campus specimen you're more than likely playing for Roger Waialae, not Crutchfield.

While freaks of nature like Tim Hausfeld are an exception, Crutchfield seeks out well-conditioned athletes most with adept shooting and passing skills.

A year ago in the Hilltoppers' ASRC facility, a western Pennsylvania prep recruit was in the house witnessing WLU's D-II Regional championship victory.

"I knew right then (this) is where I wanted to be," smiled West Mifflin High product C.J. Hester, who incidentally, was the West Virginia Conference freshman of the year.

"I felt my game fit in well with coach Crutchfield's system," added Hester. "I definitely made the right choice."

Hester was one of a number of Hilltoppers going above and beyond the call Tuesday in West Lib's dazzling regional rematch ouster of Shaw's big, bad Bears.

"To lose four, 1,000-point scorers - I doubt even Jim (Crutchfield) believed we could get back (to this point)," remarked veteran WL athletic director Jim Watson.

"Our success starts at the top and that's with Jim," Watson continued. "He knows exactly the type player he wants in his program. A lot of other schools prefer bringing in Division I or JUCO transfers. But that's not us. The kids coming to West Liberty are kids who fit into Jim's system."

Crutchfield's masterplan has resulted in consecutive 30-plus victory campaigns and an unprecedented second consecutive journey to the NCAA Div. II's Elite Eight.

"We have a chance to win a national championship," Crutchfield reasoned. "I'm not saying we're going to win it but we'll be in the hunt. Just because you advance (to the Elite Eight) doesn't necessarily mean the level of competition and talent elevates."

The 2011 'Toppers took it to the final four before bowing (110-101) to BYU-Hawaii. Next Wednesday, WL has a quarterfinal date against Stonehill, Mass. on the campus of Northern Kentucky University.

HOOP SCOOPS

SAY WHAT? Tuesday's final stat sheet indicated West Liberty swatted away nine Shaw shots while the Bears recorded but four.

"A couple I thought were momentum changers," Crutchfield advised. "We went down and scored at the other end." Sophomore Keene Cockburn, in particular was clutch. WL's 6-7 sophomore was credited with six blocks.....

EXTENDED Family. Several players from last season's Hilltopper regional champions were in attendance Tuesday, including Barry Shetzer, Jordan Fortney and John Wolosinczuk.....

WEST Virginia Conference Commissioner Barry Blizzard was pleased four conference reps qualified for the Atlantic Regional.

Blizzard was even more delighted regarding WL's repeat title - the first in WVC history. "Just great exposure for our conference," Blizzard offered. "Year in and year out, we feel the WVC produces outstanding teams. But advancing to the national stage is truly special. Hopefully, there are potential recruits out there taking note of what teams like West Liberty, Wheeling Jesuit, Charleston and West Virginia Wesleyan have accomplished and they'll consider playing in our league...."

MAKE no mistake, the home court advantage came into play for WLU as both coaches noted. "No question, playing on your home court is huge," said Shaw's Cleo Hill, Jr..

"Winning our league and the tournament got us (the home court)," Crutchfield. "I thought our fans made a real difference..."

Gibson may be reached at rgibson @timesleaderonline.com

 
 

 

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