By Tony Viola, Staff Writer
When I came back to my apartment after the Hilltoppers’ 109-99 loss to Wheeling Jesuit, I logged onto Facebook. The very first status I saw really made me upset.
It wasn’t a WJU student saying that West Liberty was overrated, nor was it a WJU student celebrating their team’s victory in an obnoxious manner. It was a student from the hilltop that made my blood boil.
Her status read, “I must say that tonight I am not proud to be a West Liberty Hilltopper.”
I was stunned. Did she just say NOT proud? How could you ever, ever not be proud to be a Hilltopper? Our team was the No. 1 team in the nation for the second straight year.
Let me restate that.
Our team is not only currently in first place in the Atlantic Region and the new West Virginia Conference champions, but the No. 1 team in the nation. And not just the No. 1 team, but the only team in Division II men’s basketball with one loss. Now we have two. Three total over the past two seasons.
And you’re not proud to be a Hilltopper?
Let me hit you with a statistic: sixty games. West Liberty won 60 straight conference games. That has never been done before. WLU came up one win short of having back-to-back undefeated conference seasons. That also has never been done before.
But doing the impossible is nothing new for this basketball team.
Maybe because we’re just used to seeing our Hilltoppers win we don’t fully appreciate the insanity of the situation, but this team lost four senior starters. Four 1,000-point scorers who combined for over 5,000 points during their Hilltopper careers graduated.
That would cripple a program.
The Indianapolis Colts lost one player for one season and everything turned upside down. West Liberty lost four Peyton Mannings.
The Hilltoppers started this season the No. 6-ranked team just based off of last year’s reputation. And they were supposed to go one way: down.
Never in a million years were they supposed to go on a 23-game winning streak and rise to the top spot of the polls.
And you’re going to throw that out the door because they lost one game?
They lost to a team that has the second ranked scoring offense in the country and the third place team in the conference. (Note that the WVIAC is no joke anymore. Two teams are currently ranked in the Top 25 and five are seeded to play in the NCAA Division II tournament.)
So let me tell you something, honey, you don’t need to help everyone celebrate when we win the WVIAC tournament. And you don’t need to come by the ASRC when we’re hosting the regional tournament. And you don’t need to get a seat on the bus to Kentucky to watch our Hilltoppers in the finals.
Because according to a poll in the Wheeling Intelligencer on Feb. 23, 100 percent of voters said “Yes” when asked if they believed West Liberty would return to the Final Four.
So just based on that poll, I’d say there’s a lot of folks around here who have pride and believe in their team.
I’m one of them. My name’s Tony Viola and I am proud to be a West Liberty Hilltopper.