In late August, the WWC men’s basketball team suddenly found itself without a head coach when Kevin Walden accepted the head coaching job at his alma mater, Knox College.
In late January, the men had a 7-10 record after a difficult early schedule that included NCAA Division I opponent Western Carolina, which the Owls trailed by just three points with 15 minutes to play before the Catamounts pulled away.
Now, in early March? NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!!!
Guided by 28-year-old new head coach Greg Neeley and assistant coaches Tiger Norman and Matt Kantor ’12, the Owls finished the season with 12 consecutive victories to win the U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association national championship (Division II). Their 19-10 record included four wins in four nights as the ninth seed in the national tournament’s 10-team field, including a 76-68 comeback win over host team Penn State Fayette in the championship game March 2 in Uniontown, Pa.
Senior shooting guard Raysean Love of Burlington, N.C., led the way in the title game with 22 points, his average over the final three games. Not surprisingly, Love was named tournament Most Valuable Player for his deadly shooting and all-around play in leading the Owls to the title. Anthony Barringer, senior point guard from Charlotte, and Rashad Ali, junior post player from Chicago, also were named to the All-Tournament Team.
So where do you turn in September for a new head basketball coach? Apparently to basketball-rich Indiana and Ancilla College, a two-year school in Donaldson where Neeley had been head coach for two seasons. Upon coming south, the Bremen, Ind., native, his assistants and of course his team-first players produced a college version of “Hoosiers.” No, Hollywood could not have dreamed up a better story.
Although the capacity crowd that gathered for the title game consisted mostly of Penn State Fayette fans, the Warren Wilson contingent made plenty of noise as they, of course, had much to cheer with a basketball program that has come so very far in the past five years. In addition to students and players’ parents, WWC alumni, faculty, staff, trustees and administrators were represented at the game. One alumnus, former player and coach Jay Lively ’00 of Asheville, even drove a bus that carried 25 Warren Wilson fans to southwestern Pennsylvania on a wintry weekend.
After the championship game, hugs were common and tears were flowing all around the court before and after the trophy presentation and ceremonial net cutting. Of all the celebratory embraces, perhaps none was more emotional than that of MVP Love and his mother, Ada. The Loves are aptly named.