WJU women picked finish second in MEC

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — Two-time defending tournament champion Wheeling Jesuit was selected to finish second at the Mountain East Conference Women’s Basketball Media Day on Monday at the Bridgeport Conference Center. Coach Debbie Buff’s Cardinals finished with 110 points and one first-place vote in balloting by the league’s coaches.

“That’s very surprising,” Buff said. “I know a lot of it goes on last year, but we had seniors last year.

“I do feel humbled that we are ranked that high. When I first came in here we were ranked like 11th or 12th.”

The Cardinals will rely on the backcourt duo of senior Mariah Callen and junior Mo Burns, as well as forward Chenelle Moore. WJU is seeking a third straight NCAA Tournament berth.

“We only really have three players that got quality minutes,” Buff said. “This is probably the youngest team I have ever put together.”

Defending regular-season champion Glenville State, which returns eight players that averaged at least 20 minutes a game, was chosen as the preseason favorite. Coach Kim Stephens’ club, which went 24-6 and features returning MEC Player of the Year Paris McLeod, received 10 first-place votes and racked up 120 total points.

“I’m excited about this year,” Stephens said. “We have eight seniors and return about 70 points a game.

“Our goal over the summer was to find a back-to-the-basket post player and to improve at every position.

“We failed to find the post player, but I do believe we’ve gotten better at every position.”

The coaches believe that Kyle Cooper has some work to do in his first season at West Liberty. Accustomed to being picked near the top of the league, the Hilltoppers were selected an uncharacteristically low eighth in the 12-team conference.

“I don’t know if I would really say surprised after last year,” Cooper said. “A lot of people traditionally look at the previous year and cut, copy and paste.

“I do think we are better and I am looking forward to getting our kids motivated with this.”

The Hilltoppers return Johnie Olkosky, Makenna Shives, who led the nation with 106 3-point goals, and post Marissa Brown, among others. They added freshman point guard Audrey Tingle.

“This is a new year and we have the roster and the depth to do what we want to do as a coaching staff,” Cooper said. “I am so honored to serve as the head coach of this group.”

West Virginia State, which is under the direction of former Glenville coach Charles Marshall, was selected to finish third. The Yellow Jackets return Shae Hines (16.5 points, 5.3 assists) and last season’s conference Freshman of the Year, Sydney Bates.

Notre Dame was picked fourth with 75 points, followed by Charleston (71), Fairmont (69), Shepherd (65) and West Liberty (62). West Virginia Wesleyan was tabbed ninth with 51 points, while UVa-Wise (43), Urbana (21) and Concord (20) rounded out the poll.