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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — It is fitting, perhaps, that West Virginia University is the midst of finals week as No. 15 Connecticut comes to the Coliseum at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night for the 2021 renewal of the Big East-Big 12 Battle. This may not be a final for Bob Huggins' basketball team, but it certainly is a mid-term exam.

Where are the Mountaineers? If you look at their 8-1 record, you might suspect they can dance with the stars of college basketball. But the schedule they've faced to date was built to ease a team that lost its two key players from last year into a season in which it has seven new players, either recruits or transfers.

Connecticut, also 8-1 with a loss to Michigan State, hobbles into the game with two starters — Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin — questionable, while it's expected that WVU's shooting guard Sean McNeil, who missed the Mountaineers' victory over Radford with a lower back injury, is expected to play though listed as "day-to-day" by coach Bob Huggins.

"We are going to need him," Huggins said during his Tuesday night radio show.

Sanogo is second in scoring to the Huskies' top player, R.J. Cole, averaging 15.6 points and 6.3 per game, while Martin averages 12.9 points and 7.7 rebounds.

That certainly helps the Mountaineers' chances to pull off a stunner against a school that was 15-4 against WVU during the Big East years, but Cole's presence gives the visitors a special kind of player.

"He does everything. He's really good. He can get them in offense. He can score. He defends," Huggins said. "To me, from the outside looking in, he looks like he's the guy that runs the show, that makes everything happen. He makes sure everyone does everything they are supposed to do."

But Huggins really likes what he sees of UConn.

"They score so many ways. They are really good in transition. They finish. They are a really good rebounding team ... and that's their whole team, not just a few guys," he said. "They are really good defensively. They don't give up a whole lot of penetration.

"They remind me of some of the teams of the past. They do a great job in transition, really rebound it. They are superior athletes," Huggins concluded.

He offers no such superlatives toward his own team.

"I'm worried more about us than anything. We're struggling, trying to get that fixed," he said.

His concerns are many. Asked to list a few, he put it this way:

"It's hard to sit here and put them in order."

This was what he came up with.

"Trying to get them to throw it to someone wearing the same color shirt they have on. They're struggling with that. They are throwing the ball around. We have turnovers. We haven't rebounded it. Other than a couple of guys, we haven't made shots. We haven't made free throws," he said.

"You want me to keep going."

No, he made his point.

One of his biggest concerns has been a lack of intensity from a team that normally has that if nothing else.

"I don't know why it hasn't been that way. It's always been that way. You can't blame it all on the portal. You can't blame it all on incoming guys. We have a core of older guys that should be better, certainly should play a heckuva lot harder," he said.

Taz Sherman is going to have to continue his scoring spree, averaging 20 points a game and ranking second in the Big 12 in scoring.

The big guys may hold the key to this game, for they are going to have to show dramatic rebounding improvement and even get some inside scoring. Gabe Osabuohien has proven he can handle it over the past couple of years, with one if ... "if he stays in the game long enough."

Pauly Paulicap has moved ahead of the other big men off the bench with his recent play and effort, but he's just 6-foot-6.

"He's been really active and he's been, without doubt, our best guy inside," Huggins said.

Huggins would like to see Seny Ndiaye, a legitimate inside player and potential shot blocker, get it all together, but he hasn't seen that yet.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — It was early in the first half of West Virginia's 67-51 victory over Radford at the Coliseum, a game that will be remembered far more for the return of former Mountaineer point guard Darris Nichols as head coach of the Highlanders than for anything that took place ont eh floor.

The first media timeout came along and Nichols had his team gathered around him, sitting at the far end of his bench, a spot unaccustomed to him in the Coliseum, having mostly been on the floor directing things from the point first for John Beilein, then for one year with Bob Huggins.

Upon the JumboTron, the WVU people surprised him with a highlight reel ... there he was, canning a game-winning 3, then a big time dunk, Tony Caridi's call echoing throughout the Coliseum.

The fans loved it. Nichols, not so much.

He wanted his team to hear him, not Caridi, and he wasn't expecting the video. Looking up had him cramming his neck and he wasn't used to the monstrosity that is this video board compared to the primitive scoring system that was there in his day.

"Maybe they'll send me a copy of it," he said, a bit of begging in his voice when he spoke to the media following the game.

This was a far less important talk than the one he gave to the West Virginia team when he dropped into their locker room. It's uncommon for an opposing coach to wander into the other team's locker room to have a chat, but Nichols always was that kind of guy.

He had things to say, felt he could offer something to the team representing his alma mater, and said them.

So what did he say?

His message was short, but it had to be impactful, for he knows where he came from and where he has gotten and the part playing at WVU and for Huggins played in it all ... and sometimes it isn't easy to do with Huggins.

"The thing I learned playing for Huggs was, if you listen to the tone instead of listening to the message, you have no chance," Nichols told the team.

Huggins' sermons often can be strong, the words punctuated with phrases that would have sent mom to the bathroom for a bar of soap to clean your mouth out with.

They can be emotional, and at times they be terribly critical.

But they are proven to work.

"This is a dude that helped me get to where I am, changed my life," Nichols said. "Whatever he tells you is the truth and the only way you will get better is if you accept the truth."

So, you cut through the theatrics and simply listen to the script and you will all right.

"I think they appreciated me coming in there and I just felt they might need to hear that from somebody else," Nichols said.

What, though, did Huggins think of the message.

"I wasn't in there then," Huggins answered, when asked.

He was off doing his radio show at the time.

So he was told that Nichols told them to listen to the message and disregard the delivery. Did he believe that to be the right approach?

"There's a time when you better listen to the tone," Huggins said. "If you know what's good for you, you better listen to the tone."

Huggins has a point in what he says and how he says it.

"I've tried with this group," he said. "I've tried to explain things to them. After the last game, I tried to explain the Sagarin to them, because it's part of the lay of the land. They don't get it."

The Sagarin ratings have long been used in seeding the NCAA field and it includes point differentials. Huggins had not been happy that his team had let leads slip away and wanted his team to put together a full 40-minutes of basketball each night.

"So I'm not going to feel bad when we feel we are going to be a ninth seed and are an 11th seed or don't get into the tournament," he said, knowing that he had done his best to get through to them and they didn't listen.

Nichols was a different kind of player than most. He was a coach in waiting, someone analytic and someone who priding himself on doing things the right way.

He knew Huggins would point him in the right direction and wasn't about to let a few loud expletives change the direction of his future.

He got stuck on detail, so much so that this was actually part of his scouting report heading into the WVU game.

"One of my assistants was a manager here. He had the scout and the one thing he emphasized was they had to be ready for the musket. You'll see guys on visiting teams going through the handshake line hitting the ground when the musket goes off," Nichols said. "I didn't want it to startle our guys."

Was he joking? Should you listen to his tone or his message?

Maybe we should have judged from what he said next.

"I saw the Mountaineer and asked him, 'Can you scoot over a little bit.'"

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia women's volleyball team fell to Illinois in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament on Friday evening in Lexington, Kentucky, at Memorial Coliseum. The Mountaineers could not overcome the Fighting Illini in set scores of 23-25, 25-12, 25-22, and 25-20.

The Mountaineers earned their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid this season.

"Congrats to Illinois for advancing," coach Reed Sunahara said. "It's not the way we wanted to end, but I am proud of our players and our program for getting to the tournament, and making it this far. They made history, and I am proud of them for working hard and getting us here."

West Virginia was led by fifth-year senior outside hitter Adrian Ell, who recorded her 12th double-double of the season with 19 kills and 12 digs.

Additionally, four Mountaineers tallied double-digit scores, including senior setter Lacey Zerwas, who recorded 45 assists, while senior outside hitter Kristin Lux added 12 kills to the match.

Fifth-year senior libero Alexa Hasting tallied 26 digs, and sophomore outside hitter Skye stokes recorded 11 digs.

WVU finished the match hitting .184, with 52 kills and six team blocks.

The Mountaineers opened the match with an early 10-3 lead. Illinois used a 3-0 scoring run to bring the set to 10-6 and eventually took a 13-11 lead. The teams traded the lead, but a 4-0 scoring run from WVU gave the Mountaineers Set 1, 25-23.

Illinois used a 5-0 scoring run to open Set 2 and went on to take an early 11-4 lead. A few strong scoring runs gave Illinois the frame, 25-12.

UI opened Set 3 in front, but WVU responded with a kill. Illinois took the lead 5-3, but West Virginia fought back with a 3-0 run to go up 6-5. The Fighting Illini used a 9-1 run to take back the lead, 15-9. After UI held the lead, 23-16, a 5-0 Mountaineer run brought the Mountaineers within two points, but Illinois took Set 3, 25-22.

Lux opened Set 4 with a kill, and the teams traded points. A 3-0 run gave West Virginia the lead, 7-5, but Illinois followed to take back the lead, 8-7. An 8-0 run from UI extended its lead. Illinois brought the set to 24-18, but West Virginia was not ready to give up. The Mountaineers held on for two more points before falling, 25-20.

WVU entered the tournament with a 19-9 mark this fall, good for a third-place finish in the Big 12 Conference. The squad went 8-8 in Big 12 play.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — With more transfers and late roster additions and subtractions than ever before, getting a read on the way a future football schedule will play out is even more difficult than it used to be, when rosters were far more stable and coaching staffs weren’t flipping like orders of hash browns at the local Waffle House. However, there are a few items of note to highlight, and a couple more to ponder, with the release of West Virginia’s 2022 pigskin slate.

First, and foremost for fans, are two very attendable road games. Short jaunts to Pitt and Virginia Tech should make for full visiting attendance sections at the latter, and much more at the former, if WVU supporters are to hold on to their reputations as road warriors backing their team.

The excitement of opening against Pitt should build anticipation throughout the spring and summer, and although it’s tough to decipher now just what each squad will look like, that shouldn’t lessen what will be one of the better buildups to a season.

WVU and Pitt have faced off 104 times on the football field, but only 10 of those have come in WVU’s season opener, with the Panthers holding a narrow 6-4 lead in those contests.

Three weeks later, it’s a trip to Blacksburg, with the Mountaineers looking to defend the Black Diamond Trophy, which they retook with a 27-21 win this year. Virginia Tech will be one of three teams with a first year head coach that WVU will face in 2022.

In between, WVU hosts Kansas and Towson, and will be favored in both those contests. As in 2021, getting off to a good start will be vital, and the Mountaineers didn’t get that done, starting out the campaign 2-4 before rallying to get to a bowl. A 3-1 record in the first four games of 2022 will be the minimum needed to build improvement, and a 4-0 start would be much better, because the 2022 schedule is backloaded.

That doesn’t necessarily include the first game in October, in which WVU goes to Texas, because the Longhorns continue to be the most overrated program in the country. The Mountaineers are 5-5 against UT in Big 12 play, and shouldn’t have any confidence fears in making that trip, but it will constitute the back end of a pair of consecutive road games.

From there, though, it gets more difficult. WVU hosts Baylor on a Thursday-nighter at home, and it will be interesting to see what attendance and support is like for that mid-week encounter. The Mountaineers and Bears traded Thursday night games in 2018 and 2019, with each team winning at home. WVU then makes the tiring, lengthy trip to Lubbock to face a Texas Tech team that has won three straight against WVU, and that’s one that the Mountaineers will need to win if it has hopes of finishing in the top half of the league.

A home game against TCU, with new head coach Sonny Dykes, could give the chance for back to back wins, but then it’s Iowa State, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, alternating on the road and at home, to close out the regular season. WVU is just 12-27 against that quartet in Big 12 play, and has to make big jumps in order to be competitive against three of those schools. The potential of that tough finishing stretch makes it all the more important for the Mountaineers to get off to a quality start.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia women's volleyball team travels to the 2021 NCAA Tournament host site in Lexington, Kentucky, to meet Illinois in a first-round matchup on Friday.

First serve is set for at 5 p.m. inside the Memorial Coliseum. Live stats and video can be found on WVUsports.com.

"It is great to be a Mountaineer," coach Reed Sunahara said. "This is an exciting time for our program and our players. We are excited to go to Lexington this week."

The Mountaineers earned their first-ever bid NCAA Tournament bid this season.

WVU enters the tournament with a 19-9 mark this fall, good for a third-place finish in the Big 12 Conference. The squad went 8-8 in Big 12 play. Of note, West Virginia is one of seven Big 12 schools to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, marking the second-most schools for any conference at the NCAA Tournament.

The Mountaineers closed out the 2021 regular season hitting .211, with an average of 13.59 kills per set.

West Virginia was led by fifth-year senior middle blocker Adrian Ell, who averaged 3.42 kills per set. Senior setter Lacey Zerwas averaged 10.32 assists per set while fifth-year senior defensive specialist Alexa Hasting recorded 3.92 digs per set.

Illinois won its only match against West Virginia back in 1978.

The Fighting Illini finished the 2021 season 20-11, with a 12-8 conference record in the Big Ten. Illinois ended the season hitting .225, with an average of 13 kills per set.

The team is led by sophomore outside hitter Rainia Terry, who averaged 3.37 kills per set and .47 service aces per set. Additionally, redshirt junior setter Diana Brown averaged 10.22 assists per set, and senior defensive specialist Taylor Kuper dug an average of 4.47 balls per set.

The Mountaineers' hard work this season paid off. Opening the season 10-0 for the first time since 2017, West Virginia swept No. 23 Michigan in a match on Sept. 3. The team tallied its first win at Iowa State and earned a season sweep over Oklahoma for the first time in program history.

Of the 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament, 32 received automatic qualification while the remaining 32 were selected on an at-large basis by the Division I Women's Volleyball Committee.

The first and second rounds will be Dec. 2-4 in a single-elimination format. The teams that win in Round 1 in Lexington will play each other in Round 2 on Saturday at 5 p.m. Host team Kentucky will take on Southeast Missouri State in the other first-round matchup.

Regionals will take place from Dec. 9-11. The championship will be held in Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For Sean McNeil, Tuesday night provided a glimpse of the path not taken.

The guard from Union, Kentucky, initially planned on attending Bellarmine University, but after just two days on the school’s Louisville campus, he packed up and went home.

“I have thought about what would have been different if I had stayed,” admitted McNeil, shortly after his new team (West Virginia) pushed past his old one (Bellarmine), 74-55, Tuesday night at the WVU Coliseum. “My mom and dad weren’t very pleased with me when I decided to leave within 48 hours. I joke with them now and tell them I knew it was going to play out like this.”

There have been plenty of good moments for McNeil in his three years as a Mountaineer. He’s currently averaging 12.0 points per game at a Power 5 program, helping WVU to a 6-1 start to the 2021-22 season.

Win number six on the campaign came against a team McNeil nearly played for several years ago.

“There were a few personal things going on, and I just felt like I wasn’t ready,” noted McNeil of his quick departure from Bellarmine. “I went home for a year, went to community college, though they didn’t have any sports, so I was just working out. Then my sophomore year technically, I (started playing at Sinclair Community College), and that got things going.”

After averaging a national junior college-best 29.7 points per game in his one season at Sinclair, which is in Dayton, Ohio, McNeil found his recruitment much different than it was during his high school days.

“When I was in high school, I felt counted out,” admitted McNeil, who picked WVU after interest from dozens of Division I programs while lighting up the scoreboard at Sinclair. “I had only two offers coming out of high school, both Division II. It wasn’t really about having anything to prove, but I had a chip on my shoulder, and I had that tonight.”

That chip has led the 6-foot-3 shooting guard to 594 career points and 111 3-point baskets in his 65 games as a Mountaineer.

His latest performance brought him 14 points in the victory over the school that nearly-was.

“This was more than just another game,” acknowledge McNeil. “I’ve played friends in the past, and I still keep in contact with a few of those guys (at BU). Scottie (Davenport) is a good coach, a good guy. I have a ton of respect for them, for sure, but I definitely marked this one on the calendar.

“I was definitely ready for this one and wanted this one bad. I wasn’t trying to force anything, though. I hit two (shots) early, and then tried to keep going from there.”

McNeil made six of his 14 field goal attempts against the Knights, including two of four from 3-point range. He also had two assists and one rebound.

“You always look back and think of where you came from, and you never try to forget where you came from,” stated McNeil

“They’ve done big things there, just transferring over to D-I last year,” he added of Bellarmine, which was a Division II program when he was there but now is in its second year as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference. “Credit to them. Scottie has a great record there, and he definitely wins.”

McNeil had some tough moments in telling Davenport he wasn’t ready for college and that he was departing Bellarmine before he had even unpacked.

Now a Mountaineer, it has certainly worked out well for McNeil. That included Tuesday night in his new team’s 19-point win over his old one.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va (WV News) — As you watch West Virginia play its way through the early season you can't help but feel there's an explosion waiting to go off with guard Taz Sherman; a game where everything he throws up there goes in and at the end of the game the scoreboard lights up 40 points or so.

Now, he may not know it at the time, because somehow he inserts himself into the game looking to win, rather than caring about how many points he hangs up there.

Take his game against Eastern Kentucky. He scored a career-high 28 points ... and it wasn't until he gathered with teammates for media interviews that he realized he had done that.

"In these games early, I haven't felt like I've been scoring all these points," said Sherman, who averages 20.5 points per game to rank second in the Big 12. "I never look at the JumboTron to see how many points I scored. It kind of felt weird. I just try to keep it going."

In fact, Sherman isn't particularly happy with the way he's been scoring, noting that the thing he wants to improve upon most right now is his shot selection. Somehow, despite the 20-point average, his field goal percentage was at 40.4% and his 3-point shooting is lingering at 27.8% as he went into the Bellarmine game, which is low for him.

"I tend to make the hard ones ... but I gotta make the easy ones. That's what really prepares you for tournament play because it seems then they all make open shots," he said.

Sherman came to West Virginia out of Missouri City, Texas, known for his scoring, being second nationally in junior college ... and, in case you haven't figured it out, scorers are different kinds of folks from us mere mortals.

For example, Sherman knows that he's going to have a good night and before the opening tip.

"To me, it starts in warmups," he began. "When I shoot shots, I'm looking at how my shots are going in, not how many of them go in. There's something called 'shooters' makes. Everyone can make shots, but sometimes the ball just goes in the rim a little differently and it starts in warmups.

"Then, it depends how I start the game. ...If I start with a layup or a 3. I like to try to get to the rim first. I try to get to the free throw line, then my game gets going."

In fact, in the early parts of these early-season games Sherman has been reserved, trying to get his teammates involved in the offense, getting them into the flow of shooting the ball so he can turn it loose later in the game.

With his reputation, you might think that Sherman has lit it up one night or more for 50, but you would be wrong.

"No, but I had in a triple overtime game in junior college. It was against coach Billy Gillespie. I was kind of upset. I thought I should have 50-something there." he said.

Not even in AAU ball did he go for 50.

"Every time I played in AAU there were so many guys who could score like me, so no one was going off on 50. They might go off for 30, but that was it," he said.

In fact, the memory that has stayed with him the longest was from middle school.

"I do remember when I was in seventh grade, there was an A team and a B team and I was on the B team. I remember in the championship game I came down and hit seven 3s in a row. Seven possessions and I hit seven 3s," he said.

"That's like the craziest shooting experience I had."

In his offense as it now is, Huggins is using Sherman less shooting from 3-point range and more from mid-range or posting up, trying to get an inside presence.

"They tried to do that in junior college, too. You have to adapt to that. You just kind of prepare yourself for that. It's like my sophomore year in junior college. Teams tried to take me out of it, but you play your way out of that.

That was something that really started his sophomore year in juco when they put him at the point because he was then being guarded by the other team's point guard, normally a smaller player than the shooting guards would be.

They also doubled on him a lot and he expects to be seeing that, but says it is nothing to him and that he knows how to handle it.

"Just play your game. Teams are going to try a lot to get you riled, but as long as you do what you do they can't do too much about it," he said.

Team also look at him and believe they can be physical with him, but that doesn't faze him either.

"A lot of people try to play physical with me, but I'm a physical guard. Just because I'm not 205 pounds or whatever, I'm physical. They are starting to double team in the post a little bit and they try to put bigger guards on me, but the way we play you have to switch a lot.

"People think the post game is about strength and height, but it's footwork and quickness. If you can get your opponent off balance, you will be successful there.

"If I get doubled, fine, I'll find teammates. Good for us, they'll make plays. I'm trying to do everything I can to get my teammates involved more."

As important to a shooter as getting the ball into the basket is working on how to put himself in position to get off the quality shot, especially since he is going to be pressured throughout. Sherman pushes himself in this area.

"I try to initiate contact early. If you jump straight into them, that takes away their jump. That takes away the blocked shot," he said. "Plus, it's easier that way to get to the rim. You get your shoulder or your chest into someone else without creating an offensive foul, just enough for me to be slightly on balance and get them off balance.

"When I work out, I try a lot of different things over and over again. Everything I do I've practiced. Some of the shots I take might look ridiculous at times but I feel you're not a good shot maker unless you make ridiculous shots consistently."

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Mike Carey's been sick, battling a cold "and stuff", as he put it, for two months.

"I've tried everything," the 4-1 West Virgnia women's basketball coach said Tuesday before heading to practice to prepare for Wednesday night's Big 12-SEC Challenge road meeting with Kentucky, also 4-1. "I've been on three different things — even steroids."

Maybe the problem that was bothering him was that it wasn't his players taking the steroids because they played "soft" in the St. Petersburg (Florida) Classic final, losing by a point to a good BYU team.

This was a game WVU let get away, a championship it should have won but wouldn't do what was necessary to reach out and grab it, and that more than the cold was making Carey sick.

"If we'd quit making mistakes I wouldn't have to yell and I'd probably get better," Carey said.

The problems he faced were three-fold.

"I'll tell you what, Esmery Martinez was sick most of the time; Kari Niblack was in foul trouble most of the time. I was surprised our last game we weren't more aggressive. They were like trapping us in the post and weren't aggressively getting out of it.

"And I was surprised our guards turned the ball over so many times. If we would have not have turned the ball over so much, we'd have been in great shape."

Can't argue with that, but if Sue Bird had been one of those guards, he'd have been in great shape, too. But the thing about sports is the team that does the best with what it has on hand usually winds up the winner.

WVU could have won the St. Pete Classic, but ...

"We just weren't aggressive enough, which surprises me. They were doubling inside and hedging on our guards and we weren't aggressive. That was disappointing," Carey said, hoping that this year with experience, depth and size his would be an aggressive, physical team.

This was a game that seemed to favor the Mountaineers, but they didn't take hold of it.

"The double teams were what concerned me. My goodness, we work on that in practice ... just get big, get aggressive. I don't care if you get an offensive foul on that. Do something. Don't let them stand there and crowd your space," Carey said.

"We need to learn from that because we play Kentucky, which will trap you quick.

"We have aggressive players, so I couldn't understand why we turned the ball over against a little bit of trapping. It wasn't like they had size trapping. They got up into you, but it wasn't size. You could see a pass."

Still, Carey believes, his Mountaineers should have brought a trophy home with them.

"The bottom line was we played well enough to win," the veteran coach said. "We just turned the ball over. It's a shame. I hate to lose that way, where you get lackadaisical with the ball. There were times we were just so soft with the ball and just turned it over. That's just not us.

"We should have won the game, but we didn't. There's always going to be one or two along the way that you win that you shouldn't have, so it evens out as the season goes on."

In the end it came down two last-second free throws for Niblack, one made, one missed ... but that was how WVU lost, not why.

"That's why you need early close games. This was the first time we were able to call time out, advance the ball and run one of our last-second plays. That was good to see that we executed it and had an opportunity to win the game," he said.

"I told the players after the game, 'We gave this away, but this is going to make us better.'"

According to Carey, this is the final game of the Big 12-SEC Challenge series and it will not be renewed, not surprisingly considering what has transpired between the conferences.

"This is it. Me, personally, I wanted to renew it," Carey said. "I understand this is over and the SEC is going to play another league now., but it gives you a Power 5 game that's scheduled for you and it is played home and home. I liked it."

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — It was slipping away, and Josh Chandler-Semedo didn't like it.

His senior year at West Virginia had hit the midway point, and the team was 2-4. The fans were disenchanted, the quarterback was being booed and the coach was being threatened.

Baylor had pushed the Mountaineers around physically, and that just didn't fit in with Chandler-Semedo's view of himself or his team. It certainly wasn't what he had in mind when he left McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio.

If he were just a student, everything would be fine. He possessed an undergraduate degree and a masters. He liked life in Morgantown, so different than the city life he had grown up in in the Canton-Cleveland section of northeast Ohio.

"I'm from Ohio so it's similar ... but it's not really similar because I'm from the city, and this is probably the most country you can get," he noted recently. "It's definitely different, but I've definitely enjoyed it – the fanbase and the people here – it's a lovely town and a lovely state. It's just phenomenal."

But he is not just a student. He's a student-athlete, and he understands he's here because of football and what it means to him.

It isn't a game. It's an identity, a way of life. It is his brothers, his friends, a way of life within a way of life, and it was coming apart as the end approached.

The Mountaineers were going into a bye week, and he wasn't about to accept what was happening.

"There's zero margin for error," he said at a mid-year press briefing. "I can only speak for myself, but I'm not going out like that, period. Excuse my language, but that's piss-poor. I'm not going out like that, not in my senior year. So, whatever has to happen has to happen. I don't care which way we go. I'm not finishing the season 2-10, 3-9. That's not happening."

That was what he said for public consumption. One can only imagine what he said to his teammates.

He boldly predicted that things would change, that the team would win at least four of the final six games, that they would be bowl-qualified.

He never backed down from that prediction.

“I definitely believed it when I said it,” Chandler-Semedo reiterated. “I know these guys. A lot of us are fourth- and fifth-year guys. I’ve worked with these guys, I've played games with these guys, they are some of my best friends. I knew the work we’d put in, and I knew we were better than going 2-10 or 3-9 or 4-8. We deserved to be in a bowl."

Many, of course, thought Chandler-Semedo had taken one too many blows to his helmet, but in the end, he was proven right ... And he proved himself right on the field, as he had vowed he would.

"Let the play show it, honestly," he said. "I can say whatever I want Monday through Friday, but if I don't go out on Saturday, it doesn't make a difference."

The regular season ended with a 34-28 victory over Kansas. Chandler-Semedo was instrumental in the game, just as he had been all season. He led the team in tackles in the game with 8, all solo, and for the season with 104, 27 more than Sean Mahone's 77.

But his influence on winning that final regular season game isn't seen so much in the tackles — even though one of them forced a fumble — but in the two passes he intercepted late in the game.

Consider that both were made in the end zone with Kansas on the doorstep of scoring a touchdown that could have changed the outcome of what wound up being a game decided by just six points.

Two fourth-quarter interceptions etched Chandler-Semedo's name into WVU lore. It had been since 1981 when a linebacker last intercepted two passes in a game. Oddly, he was disappointed to hear that.

"I thought I had that to myself," he joked.

Asked to recount the interceptions, he gladly did so.

"The first was a pretty common route. They want to get to the boundary, overload and basically either the Mike or the far side safety has coverage. It's something we work on every day. It was an easy play," he said.

And the second?

"I definitely went and got that. I took No. 11 and I saw the QB scramble. Classic drill — see green grass, see someone open and throw it to him," he said.

While the record isn't near what Chandler-Semedo was looking for coming into the season, his personal performance went beyond what many expected of him. He spent the year out of position, filling the Mike linebacker spot that had been occupied by David Long and Tony Fields III.

At 5-foot-11 and 224 pounds, Chandler-Semedo isn't a prototype middle linebacker, suited more for the Will position he played last year or for safety.

But his intelligence and understanding gained by changing positions all gave him assets he could call upon to make the conversion successful.

"The game has never really been hard to me," he said earlier this season. "It's always come pretty easy as far as learning stuff. My dad is a high school coach, so learning football was never really a problem for me. It's really just repetitions and getting after things, but it definitely took a lot of hard work to get comfortable at those different positions."