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Ryan primed to take Cardinal hoop reins

WHEELING – It wasn’t too long ago that the common perception had Wheeling Jesuit University (now Wheeling University) dead and buried. It appeared its financial and academic woes may deal the school a fatal blow.

But the Cardinals appear to be taking flight.

Wheeling University’s football team made an impressive debut last weekend, dropping a last-minute heartbreaker to rival West Liberty before a large and raucous crowd.

It may take another year or two but Zac Bruney will build a formidable Cardinal grid program.

Moreover, Wheeling University officials are planning on bringing back several sports that once faced termination. That includes wrestling, a program which finished as national runnerup this past March.

In addition, the university is doing what it needs to maintain academic accreditation.

One of the key pieces to Wheeling’s long-term health is the men’s basketball program. It has been in a fluid state after highly successful Dan Sancomb was fired two years ago for nebulous reasons.

John Peckinpaugh was hired last summer and had to restock the roster in the 11th hour. To no one’s surprise, his squad started sluggishly but finished in positive fashion.

As fate would have it, Peckinpaugh, for family matters, opted to leave Wheeling this spring for a high school job in the Hoosier State. Also exiting the program shortly thereafter were many Cardinal hoopsters.

To their credit, university officials were able to hire a new coach with name recognition and an impressive resume.

Will Ryan was hired July 1 as the Cardinals head hoop coach. He is the son of College Basketball Hall of Famer and former University of Wisconsin Head Coach Bo Ryan.

The younger Ryan spent the past five seasons as an assistant coach at Ohio University. Prior to Ohio University, Ryan served as an assistant coach at North Dakota State for seven seasons. He played basketball for his father on Wisconsin-Platteville’s NCAA Division III national championship teams in 1998 and 1999 and was also on his father’s team at Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2000-01.

“I applied for a lot of head and assistant jobs this spring. Only an X amount of head jobs are open and only a few you can get your foot into the door. I reached out to Coach Peckinpaugh. We have a good relationship. After talking to him about Wheeling I threw my hat into the ring,” Ryan said. “Rudy (Wheeling AD Yovich) called me for an interview and it went well. Then he had me up for an on-campus interview and I felt very comfortable here. I really like everyone in the athletic department and have a great rapport with them. I reached out to some people here at the university like Carrie Hanna. She has been nothing but great. Totally positive and a big help. I have met the football staff and they are quality people.

“I had to recruit everyone off video. That goes against everything I am about. I like to go see them live but there was no way to do that,” he added. “I went from not knowing if I would have enough players to 21. So it will be competitive and a battle each and every day in practice.”

Ryan brought in players from such places as Florida, New York, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Massachusetts. Of those 21 players in the fold, there are four JUCOs, nine freshmen and only three seniors.

“I am pleased with the numbers and talent level. I am comfortable with 10-12 of them playing at a high level,” Ryan said. “We are guard-oriented right now, but I would like to build a system like my dad’s. I grew up running the swing offense. But you got to gear your offensive scheme to the personnel you have.”

“Right now we are just lifting and conditioning. We haven’t been together that long,” he added. “But I can see some players stepping up as leaders and I can see who are the hardest workers. We are trying to find out exactly what we have.”

Despite inheriting a program in flux, Ryan makes no bones about his goals.

“My goal is to win the conference championship year-in and year-out. I think that is realistic and should be your main priority with your coaching staff and your players,” the affable mentor stated. “It is a long season and anything can happen. My dad says, ‘take care of the regular season and the post-season is going to happen and it is a different season.’

“I also want to build a program that is a great experience for my players. It is all about the student-athletes,” he continued. “They only go through this this once, so it needs to be a great experience. I want them to tell their family, kids and grand kids how much fun they had playing at Wheeling University and all the great friendships they made here.”

TOP FOOTBALL GAMES

IT IS said there are two seasons in the Ohio Valley – football season and waiting for football season.

To pay tribute to King Football, The Intelligencer, Wheeling News-Register and Times Leader are joining forces to identify and subsequently chronicle the “Greatest High School Games” of the past 50 years.

Criteria for those games include:

? History (first-ever meeting of teams/most yards/points);

? Atmosphere (sellout crowd/standing room only);

? Competitiveness (back and forth/close game);

? Importance of the game (championship/playoff berth);

? Participants (All-time great players involved).

To help select the top games, we are enlisting help from our readership. Fans are asked to submit their choices with supporting information via email to bkapral@timesleaderonline.com or by mail to Bubba Kapral, 200 S. Fourth St., Martins Ferry, Ohio 43935.

If you have a game that doesn’t meet the aforementioned criteria but has special significance, we want to know about it. Please submit with pertinent information. Several games have already been submitted.

Once the top games have have been selected, The Intelligencer, Wheeling News-Register and Times Leader will highlight those games in their Thanksgiving editions. Included will be game stories, photos, stats and comments from players/coaches and fans involved in those memorable contests.

BUBBA’S BITS

KURT STEIN has his Oakdale (Md.) Bears off to another quality start, winning their season opener, 33-20, against Wilde Lake. The Wheeling Central grad guided Oakdale to the Maryland Class AA championship last fall.

I DID pretty well on my U.S. Open Tennis predictions. I was spot on with picking Rafael Nadal to win the men’s side. Meanwhile, Serena Williams, my choice to win the women’s title, fell in the finals.

RON BALOG is off to a tough start at Quaker Valley (Pa.). His Quaker gridders are 0-2. Balog is a former St. Clairsville High and Muskingum University quarterback.

THE STEELERS will be fine. A lopsided loss in New England comes as no surprise. The Browns, meanwhile, need a win in the worst way in the Big Apple Monday night.

JACK COOK is off to another torrid start as the University of Dayton’s quarterback. Cook, with Ohio Valley roots, completed 21-of-29 passes for 251 yards and two TDs. He also rushed 13 times for 52 yards and two more six-pointers as the Flyers outlasted Indiana State, 42-35, in their opener. As a result, the redshirt sophomore was named the Pioneer Football League’s Offensive Player of the Week. Cook was named PFL Offensive Rookie of the Year last season. He is the son of Brad and Jen Cook. Brad was a standout athlete for Shadyside High.

THE WETZEL County Museum will induct Henry Healy into its Hall of Fame on Sept. 28. Healy served as Paden City’s head football coach for 15 years, guiding three unbeaten teams while leading the Wildcats to the 1970 state title. Healy also coached the Paden City basketball team to the 1960 state championship. Prior to coming to Paden City, Healy directed St. John Central to a 9-0 season in 1956, the lone perfect season in Fighting Irish history. Healy was enshrined into the West Liberty Hall of Fame in 1984.

LAST SATURDAY’S West Liberty at Wheeling University football game lived up to the hype with a large, vocal crowd, ideal weather and an ultra-competitive game. The Hilltoppers and Cardinals should prove a passionate grid rivalry for years to come.

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