By Steve Keenan
There will be some extra buzz surrounding the WVU Tech basketball programs this weekend.
And for good reason.
Beginning Friday, the school’s Neal Baisi Athletic Center will play host to the Association of Independent Institutions (A.I.I.) Division 1 Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament, which serves as a qualifier for the NAIA Division 1 National Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. (men) and Frankfort, Ky. (women).
Cal State San Marcos (23-5, No. 6 in NAIA Division 1) in the men’s division and Chicago’s Robert Morris College (17-12) in the women’s have earned the top seeds, with WVU Tech capturing the second seeds on both sides of the draw.
Veteran WVU Tech men’s coach Bob Williams, whose Golden Bears fashioned a 19-11 mark in the regular season, acknowledges the California-based CSSM Cougars are the team to beat, but he’s happy for the chance to be the one to knock them down.
“It’s nice to be home (Tech is 10-3 at the Baisi Center this winter),” said Williams. “We’re not the favorite, but you never know.
“The kids are excited, we’re excited, it’s a great opportunity to host the tournament.”
“We’re glad we’ve had improvement; we’ve more than doubled our wins from last year,” said the Golden Bears’ women’s coach, Jenna Everhart, whose team enters the postseason with a 15-13 mark. “We’re pleased with the direction we’re headed right now.
“Getting the bye was the ultimate goal. We feel confident we’ve put ourselves in the best possible position.”
Five Tech seniors are embracing their teams’ participation this weekend.
“We’ve just been working hard and communicating on and off the floor,” said Courtney Sturdivant, a 5-foot-5 guard who leads the Golden Bear women with a 15.8 points per game scoring average while pulling down 6.3 rebounds an outing. “I’m very excited about the tournament.
“I really think we can win the thing.”
Teammate Amy Gardner, a 5-10 guard who has scored at a 13.3 ppg clip and buried 58 3-point goals, has been happy with her team’s play this season and expects it to continue. “I think the season has went very well,” Gardner said. “We’ve been playing more as a team.
“We’re really excited for this weekend. We’re ready to work hard this week and prepare.”
The team’s third senior, 5-7 guard Amber Tully, agreed with Gardner’s assessment of the squad this season. “We’ve come together more as a team,” she said. “It gives us a big advantage playing here (Montgomery).
“I think we have a really good chance of going to nationals.”
Gardner and Tully both surpassed the 1,000-point career scoring plateau in 2012-13. Tully canned 65 3-point goals during the year.
The men’s team’s two seniors are David Rawlinson and Terrale Clark. Rawlinson averages a team-leading 20.8 ppg while grabbing 5.7 rebounds and passing out 7.8 assists a game. Clark has averages of 15.5 points and 6.4 rebounds.
Clark said the Bears have responded well to the loss of seven seniors from last season’s standout squad.
“I think we’ve responded real well coming off a tremendous season,” he said. He feels he, Rawlinson and other returnees such as Brandon Burgraff and Jaren Marino did a good job of guiding the team’s newcomers into the 2012-13 campaign. “We had a foundation. The hard work has paid off.”
He’s thrilled to have the chance to play a couple more games in front of the home fans.
“It’s really exciting,” Clark said. “It’s really good for us seniors but mainly for our school, program, fans and the community.
“We really have a big opportunity. If we all play together and do everything we have to do, I think we can compete and we can win this thing.”
Rawlinson, like Clark, says Tech has progressed well this season. The season was “definitely something special,” he noted.
“Last year we had veterans mainly, and (this year) we needed to learn how to mesh (seasoned returnees with newcomers) and teach the younger guys how to play and understand the concepts. It’s been crazy to see those guys grow up.”
About this weekend, he added, “Obviously we want to win the whole tournament,” he said, but the team must adopt a game-by-game approach. “A lot of people on campus are excited, but we need to be focused and not get ahead of ourselves.”
Seeds three through six on the men’s side are Robert Morris (16-13), Denmark, S.C.-based Voorhees College (19-11), Sumpter, S.C.’s Morris College (6-10) and Allen University (5-24), of Columbia, S.C.
No. 3 for the women is Voorhees (14-16), followed by Cal State San Marcos (12-18), Morris (2-26) and Allen (1-25).
Pairings are as follows:
Friday, March 1
Voorhees women vs. Allen, 1 p.m.
Robert Morris men vs. Allen, 3 p.m.
Cal State San Marcos women vs. Morris, 6 p.m.
Voorhees men vs. Morris, 8 p.m.
Saturday, March 2
Robert Morris women vs. Cal State San Marcos-Morris winner, 1 p.m.
Cal State San Marcos men vs. Voorhees-Morris winner, 3 p.m.
WVU Tech women vs. Voorhees-Allen winner, 6 p.m.
WVU Tech men vs. Robert Morris-Allen winner, 8 p.m.
Sunday, March 3
Women’s championship, noon
Men’s championship, 3 p.m.