February was rough for some West Virginia teams. The men’s and women’s basketball teams both went 3-6, the wrestling team had a 1-4 record, and the #3 rifle team suffered their first loss of the season last month. February wasn’t a total loss, though. The WVU tennis team continued its undefeated streak, the gymnastics team built momentum for the postseason by defeating seven out of nine opponents last month, and WVU wrestler Noah Adams completed an undefeated regular season. Now, the winter sports teams are heading towards the postseason, and spring sports are starting to rev up. Let’s take a look at the top five games for Mountaineer athletics in March.
Honorable Mentions: Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving hosting the NCAA Zone A Diving Championships (March 9-11); Gymnastics hosting the Big 12 Championships (March 21)
The West Virginia men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams finished February by hosting the Big 12 Swimming and Diving Championship at the Aquatic Center at Mylan Park for the first time in program history. The Texas men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams came away with both of the conference titles, while the WVU men’s team finished in second and the WVU women’s team finished in fifth place. The Mountaineer swimming and diving teams will be hosting another postseason event in March, when the NCAA Zone A Diving Championships come to Morgantown.
The West Virginia gymnastics team is having a good season, and a solid month in February helped WVU build momentum. The Mountaineers defeated seven of their last nine opponents, and now they are 10-6 heading into the final month of the regular season. WVU is ranked #32 in the Road to Nationals rankings, with a #5 ranking in the Southeast Region. The Mountaineers will be facing tough competition in the Big 12 Championships, including defending national champion #1 Oklahoma, #6 Denver, and #17 Iowa State. This is the first time WVU is hosting the event since 2014, so hopefully the home crowd will help motivate the Mountaineers to win their first conference title.
5. Tennis at #4 Texas (March 6)
The West Virginia tennis team is currently 7-0, which is its best start to a season since 1986 when the Mountaineers started 12-0. Despite the great start, WVU is yet to get any credit in the national rankings. The Mountaineers will have a chance to prove themselves worthy of a spot in the top 25 when they face #4 Texas. The Longhorns are 8-3, but all of their losses came to other ranked opponents. Junior Anne-Sophie Courteau and sophomore Anastasiia Bovolskaia have been WVU’s strongest singles players, while the duo of Courteau and sophomore Kay Lyman are the Mountaineers’ #1 doubles pair. Head coach Miha Lisac will need the entire WVU team to step up to pull of this upset against the top team in the Big 12.
4. Baseball at #3 Texas Tech (March 13-15)
It may be snowing, but baseball season is underway for West Virginia. WVU had one of the most successful seasons in program history, that unfortunately ended in heartbreak, last year. The Mountaineers have started the 2020 season 7-4 and they are also receiving votes in some of the national polls. Redshirt senior outfielder/right-handed pitcher Braden Zarbnisky has led WVU at the plate this season with a .468 batting average and a .500 on-base percentage from 47 at bats. Junior left-handed pitcher Jackson Wolf has been the leader on the mound with two wins in the three games that he started. He also has a total of 20 strikeouts. WVU will start Big 12 play this month at #3 Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are 11-1 with a 6-0 record at home. Winning this series would be a huge confidence booster and resume builder for the Mountaineers.
3. Men’s Basketball vs #2 Baylor (March 7)
The West Virginia men’s basketball team fell apart in February. The Mountaineers came into the month with a 16-4 record and left 19-10. Now WVU heads into March with some pressure, as some people are starting to believe that the Mountaineers are no longer a lock for the NCAA Tournament. WVU will have a chance to show it still has what it takes to win big games in the regular season finale at #2 Baylor. The Bears are currently 25-3 after an upset loss at TCU. Baylor defeated the Mountaineers in their first matchup this season, 59-70. Junior guard Taz Sherman was the leading scorer for WVU in that game, by hitting five three-pointers to have 20 points off the bench. Sherman was also tied for the most assists, with a measly two assists. The entire Mountaineer team will have to step up in this game, if WVU wants to end the regular season on a good note.
2. #3 Rifle in the NCAA Championships (March 13-14)
February ended in heartbreak for the #3 West Virginia rifle team. The Mountaineers suffered their first loss of the year to #1 Kentucky in the final match of the regular season, and then came up short in the Great America Rifle Conference (GARC) Championships to finish in second place to the UK team that had just defeated them. WVU had won 10 straight GARC Championships before this weekend’s loss. Despite the disappointments, the Mountaineers still have a chance to reach the ultimate goal of the season, by winning their sixth national title in eight seasons. WVU has been led by senior Milica Babic and junior David Koenders. Babic has led the team with a 1179.182 average this season, and she was also named this year’s Outstanding Senior at the GARC Championships. Koenders has helped WVU with a 1175.181 average this season. The Mountaineers will need the entire team to step up at the NCAA Championships. The competition will be hosted by the only team to defeat them this season, #1 Kentucky. Hopefully WVU can get revenge and come away with the program’s 20th national championship.
1. Men’s Basketball in the Big 12 Championship (March 11-14) and the NCAA Tournament
The WVU men’s basketball team is still in the running to make it into the NCAA Tournament, but the Mountaineers might need a solid showing in the Big 12 Championship to secure their spot in the big dance. WVU was projected to finish in fifth place in the conference, prior to the start of the season. The Mountaineers currently sit in sixth place with two regular season games remaining. #1 Kansas, #2 Baylor, and #22 Texas Tech were projected to be the top teams in the Big 12, and they have lived up to those expectations to this point. WVU has relied primarily on freshman Oscar Tshiebwe and sophomore Derek Culver. The big men have averaged 11.1 and 10.3 points per game, with 9.2 and 8.6 rebounds per game, respectively. The Mountaineers have also had the pleasant surprise of freshman guard Miles “Deuce” McBride stepping up as a scorer for the team. Deuce has only started two games, but is averaging 9.2 points per game. If WVU wants to find a solution to its offensive troubles, it could look to these three players, as well as senior guard Jermaine Haley, who is leading the team with a 55.6% field goal percentage. The Mountaineers need to finish in the top six in the conference to avoid having to play an extra game at the Big 12 Championship. This could also help WVU avoid Kansas or Baylor in the quarterfinals, if the finish as the top two teams. No matter where they start, reaching the finals, or winning the Big 12 Championship for the first time, would be a huge morale boost for the Mountaineers and WVU fans.
February may have been rough, but there are still big opportunities for these Mountaineer teams to prove themselves in March. From ranked matchups to postseason competition, this month is going to be full of excitement for WVU athletics.