With many disappointed in how the West Virginia men’s basketball season is going this year, the need for a distraction is vital for Mountaineer fans right now. The hiring of Neal Brown and the beginning of his tenure has been a great distraction, but it’s not the only one that Mountaineer fans have to rely on this winter. Many other WVU sports teams are having great seasons, such as the rifle and gymnastics teams, and they have some very big matches coming up this month. Let’s take a look at the top five games for Mountaineer athletics in February.
Honorable Mentions: Baseball at #17 Georgia Tech (February 17) and #27 Gymnastics vs #7 Denver and #26 Iowa State (February 2)
The West Virginia baseball is preparing to begin its season in February. The Mountaineers finished last season with a 29-27 record and they are looking to improve this year. They will be tested early this season when they go to the Atlanta Challenge. WVU will face Kennesaw State, Georgia State, and #17 Georgia Tech while in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets were ranked 17th by Collegiate Baseball and they are receiving votes in a number of other polls. Georgia Tech finished 31-21 last season. WVU is projected to finish sixth in a strong Big 12 Conference this season. The Mountaineers will be led by junior, right-handed pitcher Alek Manoah and senior outfielder Darius Hill. If WVU can come away with a few wins at the Atlanta Challenge, including one over #17 Georgia Tech, it would be a great way to start off the 2018 season.
The #27 WVU gymnastics team is having a great season. The Mountaineers are right on the outside of the College Gymnastics Association Top 25 at 27th in the “Next 5” group. WVU has consistently ranked in the top 20 of the Road to Nationals Rankings for the floor and vault exercises. The team is ranked 10th in the nation on vault and 17th on floor. WVU is currently 8-2 with a seven-match winning streak. This weekend the Mountaineers will host #7 Denver and #26 Iowa State. WVU narrowly lost to Iowa State earlier this season at the Cancun Classic. Wins against both of these Big 12 opponents could push WVU into the top 25.
5. #2 Rifle at #3 Kentucky (February 9)
The #2 WVU rifle team is working towards its 20th national championship. The Mountaineers are currently undefeated with a 12-0 record, so far this season. This match against #3 Kentucky will be the last match of the regular season for the Mountaineers, which means an undefeated regular season is on the line when they travel to Lexington next week. UK defeated the Mountaineers in the national championship last season which ended WVU’s five year streak of winning the national championship. A win in this match would be huge for WVU, as they move forward to the postseason.
4. Men’s Basketball at #11 Kansas (February 16)
Even with the team’s struggles this season, there was no way a game in Allen Fieldhouse wouldn’t make the top five games of the month. And if you want to get excited and have some optimism about this matchup: The last time WVU won a game this season was against Kansas. The Jayhawks have not been the same team since junior Udoka Azubuike tore a ligament in his right hand, ending his season. They have also lost three of their last four games. With that in mind, if the Mountaineers play their best game of the season, they could potentially get their first win in Allen Fieldhouse since joining the Big 12. Freshman Derek Culver has also provided some encouragement for Mountaineer fans, as the newcomer is averaging 11 points and almost eight rebounds per game. Despite his late start, Culver also has three double-doubles this season, which is the same amount that senior Esa Ahmad has in his career. So if Culver and the rest of the Mountaineers can dig deep in this tough road matchup, they could end up shocking the Jayhawks again. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN or ESPN2.
3. #27 Gymnastics vs #1 Oklahoma (February 24)
If the Mountaineers are able to pass the tests against #7 Denver and #26 Iowa State this weekend, it could help them continue to build momentum as they approach this match with #1 Oklahoma later this month. The Sooners are currently undefeated and the top ranked team in the country. Oklahoma was the national runner-up last season, after winning back to back national championships in 2016 and 2017. The Mountaineers will need help from their top gymnasts if they want to knock off this national powerhouse. WVU senior Kirah Koshinski is currently ranked in the top 15 nationally in both of these categories. Jaquie Tun has also helped the Mountaineers with her scores on floor. A win over OU would go a long way for the Mountaineers on their road to nationals.
2. #2 Rifle in NCAA Qualifying Match (February 16)
After the Mountaineers conclude the regular season, they will host the 2019 NCAA Qualifying Match. This will be the first part of the NCAA Championships, which WVU is hosting for the first time in school history. The NCAA Championships will take place in March. For the NCAA Qualifying Match, scores will be calculated for “counter” shooters, which will typically be the top performers of each team. This match will be a great opportunity for Mountaineer fans to see their powerhouse team get one step closer to its 20th national championship.
1. #2 Rifle in GARC Championships (February 22-23)
After the NCAA Qualify Match, and before the actual NCAA Championships, the Mountaineers will be going for their 10th straight GARC (Great American Rifle Conference) Championship in Akron, Ohio. WVU has won 13 GARC Championships since 1998. The Mountaineers will need help from their top shooters if they want to win their 14th GARC Championship. WVU has been led by senior Ginny Thrasher and junior Morgan Phillips this season, who are averaging aggregate scores of 1179.33 and 1178.21, respectively. If the Mountaineers can come away with hardware in the conference championship, it could provide momentum to win another championship when they return to Morgantown to host the NCAA Championships.
February will provide a variety of big-time matchups for multiple Mountaineer teams. From matches against ranked opponents, to conference championships, this month will definitely be a busy one for WVU athletics.