The Best of 2021: Looking back on the year’s top Mountaineer moments

Gold and Blue Nation

WVU's finest represented the Old Gold and Blue all over the world this year

West Virginia University athletics had quite the year in 2021. Records were broken, legends were immortalized and rivals were defeated.

Before we turn the page to 2022, here are some of our favorite moments from the last 12 months. There were quite a bit of them, so it took some real thinking to rank them all:

Honorable Mentions

Without further ado, here are our top 10 moments of 2021:

10. Sean Mahone leaves his mark on WVU football

The WVU safety had a heck of a final year as a Mountaineer. Not only did he appear in all 13 games to break the program record for appearances in a career, but he was also named a finalist for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the “Heisman of academics.” He finished his career with 224 tackles, four interceptions and 2.5 sacks in 55 career games.

9: Deuce McBride making bones in pro hoops

Miles “Deuce” McBride became the most recent Mountaineer selected in the NBA Draft in July when the New York Knicks called his name with the 36th overall pick. He hasn’t yet broken the starting rotation in Manhattan, but he did prove his worth in Westchester for the franchise’s G-League team, as he averages 26.8 points, 9.5 assists and six rebounds per outing. The 21-year-old guard has made 10 appearances for New York, averaging 6.9 minutes and 2.9 points, scoring a career-high 15-points against the Rockets on Dec. 16.

8: Mountaineers meet in the Majors

2021 was a wild season for pitchers in Major League Baseball, and two former Mountaineers threw themselves right into the middle of it. Orioles ace John Means got it started in May when he tossed Baltimore’s first no-hitter since 1969, while his former skipper Randy Mazey watched along from Monongalia County Ballpark with the Mountaineers. Just weeks later, WVU single-season strikeout leader Alek Manoah made his first appearance for the Toronto Blue Jays, tossing six scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, two hits and two walks as the Jays took a 2-0 win over the Yankees. Manoah had an eventful rookie campaign, finishing with a 3.22 ERA in 20 starts as he climbed up Toronto’s rotation. It all came to a head in October when Means squared off against Manoah in a divisional matchup, just the second time in history that two former Mountaineers faced off in the majors. Manoah outshone Means in the bout, giving up one hit, one earned run and a walk as the Jays beat the O’s 10-1.

7: Leddie Brown completes second straight 100-yard season

He didn’t earn the “Baddest Man in Morgantown” moniker for nothing — Leddie Brown wrapped up his long Mountaineer career in November with a bang as he became the eighth student-athlete to rush for 1,000 yards in two different seasons in his career. With his 156-yard performance against Kansas in the regular season finale, he upped his season total to 1,065 yards in 12 games, just one season after notching 1,010 in his 10-game junior season. Brown now ranks eighth all-time in WVU football history in career rushing yards, and his final career game with the Old Gold and Blue put him at No. 7 all-time in terms of 100-yard rushing games.

6: Women’s soccer alumnae show out on world stage

Nikki Izzo-Brown’s former players are no strangers to the biggest stages in soccer, but this year, two Mountaineer stars took it to a new level. Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan brought Olympic gold home to Canada over the summer after moving past Sweden on penalty kicks in the final. The duo has become crucial to our neighbors to the north, already combining for 214 caps in their young careers, while Buchanan is poised to become the team’s next captain.

The big season didn’t stop in the summer for Lawrence, however. She also helped Paris Saint-Germain to a Division 1 Féminine championship in June, which boosted her resume for the Ballon d’Or, the highest individual honor in world soccer. In November, she was voted eighth for the award, making her the highest-voted nominee with a WVU connection in history.

5: WVU volleyball earns first-ever trip to NCAA Tournament

Mountaineer volleyball’s season was magic from start to finish as the team made program history throughout its schedule. In September, Reed Sunahara’s squad swept UMBC for its 10th straight victory to open the season, tying the best start in program history. WVU kept fighting throughout its campaign with some veteran leadership (including some new faces), and ended with a 19-9 record in the regular season, including 8-8 in the Big 12. That was good enough for the program’s first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament — just one year after Sunahara led the team to its first-ever appearance in the national polls. WVU fell in the first round 3-1 to Illinois.

4: WVU golf’s Mark Goetz has historic individual season

WVU golf is still a young program, but Mark Goetz is already getting the Flying WV out on the national stage. Goetz became the first individual from WVU to qualify for an NCAA Regional, where he fell just two strokes short from punching his ticket to the NCAA Championships. In June, he was named the first All-American from WVU by Golfweek, just a couple months before teeing it up at the U.S. Amateur on his home turf of Western Pennsylvania. He took home medalist honors as the low man in the stroke play event before falling on the 18th hole in the first round of match play to David Nyfjall. Due to his big spring and summer, he was named a finalist for The Ben Hogan Award Golfer of the Month for August before winning his second straight Mountaineer Invitational in October.

3: Men’s soccer makes run to NCAA Elite Eight

Shane Lyons’s pick to bring on Dan Stratford as the new gaffer for WVU men’s soccer paid early dividends in 2021, as the former Mountaineer star brought a wealth of success in his second season at the helm. The energetic young coach led West Virginia to the No. 3 ranking in the country in the matter of weeks. His squad went on a 10-match unbeaten streak, which featured upsets of No. 3 Pitt and No. 17 Penn State, to open the season. The Mountaineers made their return to the NCAA Tournament in November as the No. 11 seed, moving past Virginia Tech and No. 6 Tulsa before getting knocked out in a penalty shootout with No. 3 Georgetown.

2: Ceili McCabe breaks all sorts of program records

WVU opened the record book, and Ceili McCabe ran all over it in 2021. The Vancouver, British Columbia, native burst on the scene in the spring as a sophomore, setting the school record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 9:37.39 at the NCAA Championships, the 12th-fastest in NCAA history. That earned McCabe All-America honors for the first time, but that was far from her final act for the calendar year, as she embarked on cross country season in the fall.

In November, McCabe became the first Mountaineer to win Big 12 Women’s Runner of the Year after she went undefeated and set several personal bests. She earned first place finishes at the Big 12 Championships and the Mid-Atlantic Regionals before earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships, after which she was named All-Region. Again, she led the team at the NCAAs, earning another All-America nod after finishing with a career-high time of 19:29.5 in the 6K — good enough for third place.

McCabe has already gotten off to a record-setting start to indoor season, setting the program record for the 3,000-meter run on Dec. 4 before earning National Athlete of the Week honors.

1: Bob Huggins moves to No. 4 on the all-time Division I wins list

What else is there to say about WVU men’s basketball’s legendary head coach? Bob Huggins spent his 2021 making history all over the college basketball world, helping lead his program back to the NCAA Tournament in March. There, he finally achieved an elusive career milestone — his 900th career win — as his team defeated Morehead State in the round of 64. The always-humble Huggins picked up where he left off during the 2021-22 season, climbing up two spots on the all-time wins list by adding 11 more victories to his resume. Now with 911, he’s moving closer to passing Jim Calhoun for third place all-time.

Huggins is also up for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s 2022 class after his snub in 2021. With his new milestones, this year may be different — and many of his friends were quite outspoken about how they felt about his resume for this class.

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