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Cooper excited with early signing class

WEST LIBERTY — West Liberty University head women’s basketball coach Kyle Cooper wasn’t about to let a mere pandemic slow him or his staff down on the recruiting trail over the summer.

Heading into his fourth season at the WLU helm, Cooper was excited to introduce the four newest members of his Lady Hilltopper “family” – all of whom took advantage of the NCAA’s November early-signing period to lock down their college plans.

Joining the Black and Gold next fall will be a trio of guards from western Pennsylvania high schools – Paige Julian from Mohawk, Anna Lucarelli from Baldwin and Danielle Rosso from Norwin – along with All-Ohio backcourter Bailee Smith from Maysville.

“Recruiting with the COVID-19 restrictions was definitely more of a challenge, especially for our program,” Cooper said. “We pride ourselves in being very thorough in our evaluations, getting up close on the baselines and on the sidelines and looking to build relationships. I was really proud of the way our staff rose to the challenges and thought we did a good job of evaluating players holistically and not just based on talent.”

When the recruiting dust finally settled, Cooper said there was plenty of credit to go around. As with all things in the Lady Hilltopper program, recruiting is a team effort.

“We really appreciate the support we receive from the administration, especially our athletic director and president,” Cooper said. “That enabled us to put together such a talented class in the middle of a pandemic. Our returning players also played a major role. They totally bought into the recruiting process and did a phenomenal job interacting with the recruits. There’s no doubt in my mind they ultimately helped us close this class. We can’t wait to see them all on the court together.”

Here’s a quick look at the WLU women’s early-signing class:

ANNA LUCARELLI is a 5-8 guard from the Pittsburgh suburbs who was a four-year starter and rare four-year captain at Baldwin. A 2-time All-WPIAL Class 6A selection, Lucarelli also excelled in the classroom where she maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout her four years and was inducted into the National Honor Society.

DANIELLE ROSSO is another 5-8 guard who hails from North Huntingdon, Pa. and Norwin High School. A four-year regular in basketball and track, she was a two-time All-WPIAL selection in basketball and a Westmoreland County Athlete of the Week who averaged 15.2 ppg. as a senior. Rosso was also a winner in the classroom as a National Honor Society inductee with a 4.0 GPA.

PAIGE JULIAN is a 5-8 guard from New Castle, Pa. and Mohawk High School. A high school teammate of current WLU freshman Karly McCutcheon, Paige teamed with McCutcheon to help lead Mohawk to a WPIAL Class 3A title before tossing in a game-high 24 points in a Pennsylvania state tournament opener last season. The two-time All-WPIAL selection served as team captain for basketball and track each of the past two seasons, running a leg on the school record 4×100 sprint relay team that placed sixth at the Pennsylvania state meet.

BAILEE SMITH is a 3-time All-Ohio Division II scoring machine out of Maysville High School in Zanesville. A consensus All-MVL, All-District 12 and All-Eastern District pick since her freshman season, Bailee is a two-time MVL and District 12 Player of the Year and the reigning Ohio Eastern District Player of the Year. She scored a school-record 40 points in a win against River View last season and tied the school single-season record with 62 3-pointers. She heads into her final season ranked No. 5 all-time at Maysville with 1,364 career points.

With their college destination now secured, the four WLU recruits will look to build on their success during their final high school season. Meanwhile, Cooper and his current Lady Hilltopper squad continue to prepare for the start of an abbreviated 2020-21 season, which has been pushed back to January due to the pandemic.

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