Wheeling Jesuit men picked to win MEC

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — Coming off a season in which it was an eyelash from knocking off eventual NCAA Division II national finalist Fairmont on its home floor in the Atlantic Regional Final, the Wheeling Jesuit men’s basketball team was selected as the preseason Mountain East Conference favorite Monday.

The Cardinals garnered 112 points and six first-place votes to edge the Falcons, who finished with 110 points and two first-place votes in balloting by league coaches that was unveiled at the MEC Media Day at the Bridgeport Conference Center.

“It’s a lot of hard work from a lot of guys … former assistant coaches and former players,” Cardinals coach Danny Sancomb said. “We have four really good returning players (Pat Moseh, Haywood Highsmith, Drake Goddard, and Preston Boswell) but the difference between those four and the other ones is night and day right now.

“We’re honored, but it doesn’t mean anything.”

Moseh averaged 16 points and six rebounds last year for a team that went 25-8. Highsmith recorded a double-double on average, with 15.3 points and eight rebounds. Boswell added 13.5 ppg. as a freshman.

Perennial contender West Liberty was chosen third, with 102 overall points and a pair of first-place votes. The Hilltoppers return Preseason All-American Dan Monteroso, as well as key contributors Brady Arnold, Brandon Smith, James Griffin and Eric Meininger.

Still, being picked third caught first-year coach Ben Howlett off-guard.

“I really didn’t expect to be third. I really didn’t,” Howlett said. “I’m flattered with third, but it just puts a target on our backs again.

“Some days we will look really good in practice. Other days I walk in there and we will be awful. We’re really inconsistent right now, and I think that’s because we have seven new guys.”

Fairmont is also under the direction of a new coach, in former West Virginia University star Joe Mazzulla. Like Howlett, he was surprised to be chosen so high. Despite returning Jason Jolly and DJ Stockman, as well as Caleb Davis and R.J. Hutcherson who missed last season with injuries, the Falcons will be a drastically different team than the one that fell in the D-II title game.

“I really want to thank Ben (Howlett) because I had the hardest job in America before he decided to take the West Liberty job,” Mazzulla joked. “The second-place vote? That’s from last year’s team and we lost two All-Americans, four starters and two fifth-year guys.

“I don’t think we’re very good right now.”

Shepherd, with 92 points and a first-place vote, was chosen fourth. Led by coach and Wheeling Park graduate Justin Namolik, the Rams welcome back their top two scorers in Steffen Davis and A.J. Carr.

“This conference seems to get better and better,” Namolik said. “It’s an exciting brand of basketball.

“It would be easy for us at Shepherd to get excited, but I don’t get excited about anything. So I am going to curb that.”

Notre Dame, which will again feature All-American Will Vorhees, who was second in the country in scoring at 26.8 points a night, came in fifth with 86 points and the final first-place vote. West Virginia Wesleyan, Charleston, UVa-Wise, Glenville State, Concord, W.Va. State and Urbana came in 6-12.

“The league has turned over. You’ve got two new coaches at two of the best programs,” Sancomb said. “Then you’ve got Shepherd who is really good.

“Top to bottom it will be a dogfight. There’s not much different from 12 to 1.”