photo courtesy of West Liberty athletics
The West Liberty Hilltoppers have sent 89 wrestlers to the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships, with 35 of those student-athletes earning All-American status in the program’s 25 years in NCAA Division II. Danny Irwin, the 2019 Division II Coach of the Year, will enter his second year leading the Hilltoppers in 2020-21, after leading Wheeling Jesuit to a runner-up team finish in 2019 behind a pair of National Champions in Tyler Warner (133) and Connor Craig (174). Both Warner and Craig will rejoin Irwin for the coming season at West Liberty, bolstering a lineup that also includes two-time All-American Cole Laya at 125 and two-time National Qualifier Logan Kemp at 197.
“West Liberty is on the rise again,” Irwin said. “We provide a program where student-athletes can obtain a top notch education while competing for NCAA Team Trophies! Our staff is fully committed to developing our guys on and off of the mat.”
The last Hilltopper to win an NCAA Division II national championship was Doug Surra, who took the 141 title, in 2009. West Liberty has never placed as a team while a member of the NCAA, with the Hilltoppers taking a team runner-up trophy as NAIA members in 1995. Eight wrestlers with starting experience return for West Liberty for 2020-21, not including the additions of Warner and Craig. With the addition of the two 2019 champions, 10 total former Wheeling Jesuit Cardinals will grace the Hilltopper lineup. Laya is among those former Cardinals, with the 125 taking third for WJU in 2019 as a true-freshman. A season ago, Laya earned NWCA All-American honors.
Along with the eight returning starters, Warner and Craig, Irwin will also get another few Hilltoppers vying for a spot in the lineup after coming off of redshirt. Another ten will come to West Liberty as a part of West Liberty’s incoming freshmen class, with wrestlers committing to the Hilltoppers from Ohio, Florida, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Christian Rivera (Wheeling Jesuit) and Ty McGeary (Pitt-Johnstown) will also join the roster as transfers, with West Liberty looking to field a squad of just more than 40 for next season.