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2023 Sports Stories of the Year (No. 10-1)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The following are the top sports stories in WVU, Marshall, Division II and High School Sports for 2023. This is the second in a two-part series. Part one was released Monday.

#10 – Winfield dominates spring sports season with three state championships

Winfield defeated Herbert Hoover 3-0 in the Class AA state championship game (Photo by Eddie Ferrari)

The months of May and June belonged to the Winfield Generals in the Class AA postseason. WHS collected state championships in girls track, softball and baseball.

The girls track team lapped the field at University of Charleston Stadium, scoring 145 points and finishing 78 points ahead of runner-up North Marion.

The WHS softball team ended the five-year reign of Herbert Hoover, defeating the Huskies in the first game of the championship round, 3-0.

A week later, the Winfield baseball team defeated Keyser by that same 3-0 margin to win the program’s fourth state title.

#9 – WVU wins first Big 12 baseball regular season title

WVU finished tied for first in the Big 12 (Photo by Teran Malone)

The circumstances that led to WVU ending the season with a Big 12 regular season co-championship may not have been ideal, yet the trophy made its way to Granville all the same.

The Mountaineers (15-9 in league play) finished tied with Texas and Oklahoma State, securing a share of the Big 12 title for the first time. WVU was swept in their final regular season series at Texas, but the Mountaineers banked enough victories to be called co-champions.

WVU finished the year with a 40-20 record. They qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the third time under head coach Randy Mazey.

#8 – Four teams defend state basketball championships

Fairmont Senior defeated Shady Spring in the Class AAA final for a second straight season, 47-42. Photo by Eddie Ferrari

Morgantown, Fairmont Senior and James Monroe completed successful state boys basketball title defenses on a thrilling day of championship games in Charleston.

The Mohigans held off the Patriots, 65-58, defeating South in the Class AAAA final for the second consecutive season.

In Class AAA, Fairmont Senior avenged a regular season loss to Shady Spring, defeating the Tigers, 47-42. It was the Polar Bears’ second consecutive win over Shady in the title game.

In Class A, James Monroe defeated Tucker County, 66-35, securing a second consecutive title for the Mavericks.

Chapmanville won the Class AA Championship.

For the ladies, Cameron was the lone team to defend their championship. The Dragons defeated Tucker County, 53-46.

Morgantown, North Marion Wyoming East also won girls state championships.

#7 – Dawn Plitzuweit leads WVU to NCAA Tournament, leaves after one season

WVU head coach Dawn Plitzuweit looks on as her team battles TCU. Photo by Greg Carey/WVMetroNews.com

Dawn Plitzuweit inherited a team and a roster in transition during her first season as the head coach of the WVU women’s basketball team. Despite those challenges, the Mountaineers qualified for the NCAA Tournament as a No. 10 seed.

Hours after losing to Arizona in their NCAA First-Round game, Plitzuweit stepped down as the leader of the Mountaineers to become head coach at Minnesota.

Mark Kellogg was hired as the new WVU head coach weeks later. The Mountaineers are 11-0 entering the start of Big 12 play, including an 18-point win over No. 25 Penn State.

#6 – WV natives breakthrough with solid NFL rookie seasons 

Chicago Bears offensive tackle Darnell Wright (58) (Jonathan Hui-USA TODAY Sports)

Three draft picks and an undrafted free agent from West Virginia have made immediate impacts in their first seasons in the NFL.

Huntington native Darnell Wright was the tenth player selected in the 2023 NFL Draft. He has started all 15 games at offensive tackle for the Chicago Bears.

Wright spent a portion of the season blocking for Martinsburg native and Shepherd alumnus Tyson Bagent. The undrafted free agent earned the No. 2 spot on the depth chart in preseason training camp. When starter Justin Fields was injured, Bagent stepped into the starter’s role. Bagent won his first professional start in a 30-12 win over the Raiders on October 22.

Parkersburg native Brenton Strange was a second round selection of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has played in 13 games and caught his first professional touchdown against the Colts on October 15.

Fairmont native Dante Stills was selected in the sixth round by the Arizona Cardinals. He has enjoyed a productive first season in the desert, appearing in 13 games.

#5 – Marion County Classic: Fairmont Senior bests North Marion in the Class AA final, 49-48

Fairmont Senior’s Dylan Ours (5) talks with North Marion’s Casey Minor (10) in the AA championship game on Friday. Photo by William Wotring.

One of the best Super Six games in recent memory featured county rivals, a play that led ESPN SportsCenter’s Top Ten and was decided on a two-point conversion attempt with 14 seconds remaining.

No. 2 Fairmont Senior won their fourth state title in six seasons with a 49-48 victory over top-seeded North Marion. Dylan Ours scored six touchdowns for FSHS. Casey Minor and Landon Frey teamed up on a 28-yard touchdown pass to pull the Huskies within a point in the final seconds. Frey’s amazing one-handed grab at the end zone pylon put North Marion a play away from taking the lead.

However, the Polar Bears snuffed out the go-ahead two-point conversion attempt and recovered an onside kick to secure the title.

#4 – Dave Walker returns to Martinsburg, wins Class AAA crown

Martinsburg players dump water on head coach Dave Walker in the AAA championship game on Saturday. Photo by William Wotring.

After a three-year stint as the head coach at Concord University, Dave Walker returned home to Martinsburg High School in May. Walker extended his personal win streak leading the Bulldogs to 69 games with a 13-0 season and a ninth Class AAA state championship.

Walker previously led Martinsburg to a pair of four-peats (’10-’13 & ’16-’19). The title was the tenth for the MHS program as the Bulldogs defeated Princeton, 57-13.

#3 – RaeQuan Battle vs. The NCAA

WVU senior guard RaeQuan Battle at the Backyard Brawl game vs. Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

RaeQuan Battle’s individual fight for immediate eligibility cleared the path for hundreds of athletes pending an NCAA waiver to compete. As a two-time undergraduate transfer, Battle needed permission from the NCAA to compete for the Mountaineers in the 2023-2024 season. The NCAA refused twice.

With his own legal representation and the backing of seven Attorneys General, Battle took his case against the NCAA to District Court in Wheeling on December 13. After a 14-day temporary restraining order was issued, the NCAA relented. They announced that student-athletes in a similar situation as Battle’s are eligible to compete immediately. The TRO was extended through the 2024 spring sports season.

Battle’s fight allowed his WVU teammate, Noah Farrakhan, to take the court on December 16. Battle made his WVU debut on December 20.

#2 – WVU reaches NCAA College Cup for first time

West Virginia’s season came to an end with a 1-0 loss to Clemson in a national semifinal. Photo by Greg Carey

A season that included a stint as the nation’s top-ranked team, a win over No. 1 Marshall and a series of high-level matches sent the WVU men’s soccer team to the NCAA College Cup for the first time. In their fourth season under head coach and WVU alumnus Dan Stratford, the Mountaineers advanced to the national semifinals for the first time in program history.

WVU earned the No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They defeated Louisville, Vermont and Loyola Marymount in home matches before advancing to the College Cup in Louisville, Kentucky. The Mountaineers (17-3-4) fell to eventual national champion Clemson, 1-0 in the semis. WVU finished the season as the No. 3 team in the national coaches poll.

#1 – Bob Huggins

Bob Huggins arrives at Pittsburgh Municipal Court on July 3 to waive a preliminary hearing. (Photo/Joe Brocato-MetroNews)

There’s a lot here.

Months after being enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Bob Huggins led WVU to a NCAA Tournament appearance. The Mountaineers lost their first five Big 12 games, but they rallied back late in the year to win 19 games and secure a No. 9 seed in the field of 68, comfortably on the good side of the tournament bubble.

Shortly after their first-round loss to Maryland, Huggins assembled a roster for the next season that featured quality additions from the NCAA Transfer Portal. The outlook for the 2023-2024 season was promising.

On May 8, Huggins used a homophobic and anti-Catholic slur during an interview with Cincinnati radio station 700 WLW. Huggins had his salary reduced by a million dollars with that money to be used to benefit marginalized communities. He was also suspended for the first three games of the 2023-2024 season.

The suspension was never enacted. On July 16, Huggins was arrested on a DUI charge in Pittsburgh. A day later, Huggins announced his intention to resign, ending a 16-year tenure leading the program he once played for.

In an odd twist, Huggins later demanded reinstatement to his position as head coach on July 7.

Meanwhile, the legal case against Huggins was eventually resolved a month later. Huggins was placed on non-reporting probation and ordered to undergo alcohol treatment.

Several veteran WVU players left Morgantown via the transfer portal after Huggins’ departure. Tre Mitchell (Kentucky), James Okonkwo (North Carolina), Joe Toussaint (Texas Tech) and Mo Wague (Alabama) elected to leave.

Josh Eilert was promoted to head coach on June 24. He was tasked with rebuilding a shorthanded roster and assembling a new-look coaching staff. The Mountaineers are 6-5 heading into their final non-conference contest against Ohio State on December 30.