In its final season in the Mountain East Conference before joining the South Atlantic Conference for 2019-20, the NCAA Division II Cavalier men’s basketball team has been picked to finish 11th in the 12-team MEC.
The women were picked to finish dead last in the MEC’s preseason poll.
“BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL”
“It’s really big,” Virginia-Wise men’s coach Blake Mellinger said of his team’s being picked to finish next to last in conference play. “It’s definitely bulletin board material, but the coaching staff honestly didn’t have to do much about it. Our guys, particularly the ones who are returning, saw it and were calling and texting us about it. It definitely lit a fire under them.”
Mellinger’s Cavaliers return three starters including All-MEC second team guard Michal Seals.
The 5-10 junior averaged 16.6 points, 6.9 assists and 2.2 steals per game for Virginia-Wise, which finished 14-16 overall and 11-11 in the MEC last season.
Also back for the Cavs are junior guard Chance Sheffey (6-4) and junior forward Yesid Mosquera-Perea (6-6).
Mellinger will also be looking for returning lettermen guard Rahji Langford (6-2, senior), forwards Jordan Pointer (6-7, sophomore) and Tajh Eason (6-4, junior).
Of the newcomers, Mellinger looks to Eric Okenchi (6-7, junior) — a transfer from Baltimore City Community College — to make a difference for the Cavaliers.
“He gives an inside presence that we’ve not really had for the last two years,” Mellinger said of Okenchi.
The Cavaliers will rely on going deep on the bench with a running attack on offense and a full-court defensive press.
“We’ll probably play faster than we ever have,” said Mellinger. “This year we can probably go 11 or 12 deep so we’ll be relying on that.”
The men open their season Oct. 30 in Richmond in an exhibition game against NCAA DI power VCU.
SOMETHING TO PROVE
Virginia-Wise’s women will have something to prove after finishing 6-21 overall and 5-17 in the MEC last season.
New head coach Jamie Cluesman, a graduate of Lee High, takes over the reins of a Cavalier team with six seniors that have seen three different head coaches in their tenure at the school.
“It’s a great group of student-athletes,” said Cluesman. “We’re taking it day by day.”
Cluesman said she’s relying on the senior class leadership that includes guards Adalmaryz Rivera-Gomez (5-6), Janice Larson (5-3), Ashley Cullen (5-9) and redshirt senior Allison Ball (5-8), who did not play last year because of an injury.
Two senior post players, Alle Moore (5-10) and Dakotah Turner (6-0) are also back for the Cavaliers.
Cluesman wants her team to be fast-paced, which means she’ll be looking to use a lot of players this season.
Besides the half-dozen seniors, the new coach will look to junior forward Cynita Webb (5-11), who averaged 11.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last year; sophomore posts Ada Stanley (5-11), Nokomis Williams (6-0) and Catrina Woods (5-11); and sophomore guards J.K. Cummings (5-6), Hanna Oliver (5-5) and Kalee Johnson (5-10), of Elizabethton, to provide support.
The Cavaliers open their season Nov. 10 in the Carol Eckman Classic in West Chester, Penn.