— Story by Taylor Kennedy
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia Tech Golden Bears will face off against the Rio Grande Red Storm Tuesday evening in the River States Conference championship.
It will be the second meeting this season between the two schools. Rio Grande took the first game 69-68 back on February 3. The Red Storm won with a game-winning putback dunk at the buzzer.
“Rio beat us, and they took it to us there,” said WVU-Tech second-year head coach James Long. “They competed and played really hard. We are in a good state of mind right now. We are in a good state of understanding of what we need to do, and how we prepare. These guys have used that loss to propel themselves forward with the season.”
West Virginia Tech has now won four of its last five following the loss to the Red Storm. The Golden Bears won those four games by an average of 20 points.
“I cannot compliment our guys enough,” said Long. “We are getting better right now at the end of the year, which is what every coach hopes for. It says everything about who they are from how they have handled everything this year to going to class, working out, lifting weights, and whether or not they will play. They have taken everything in stride. They are a resilient group.”
West Virginia Tech had nine games cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19, and one was cancelled due to the ice storm a few weeks ago.
“The way they handled it was admirable for sure,” said Long of the numerous pauses. “They were upset at times, which they should have been and that is how you want it to be. You want it to hurt. They are competitors and they care about it. It sucked and it was hard, but it was the reason we care so much right now. We are competing so much right now because we have used all of this to become resilient and that is all them.”
Rio Grande goes into Tuesday’s game riding a six-game winning streak. The Red Storm has held four of its last six opponents to under 65 points.
“You want to talk about a team that has a great understanding of who they are, it is Rio,” said Long of what he is seeing from the Red Storm. “They do a great job with who they are. They play tough and hard. They make the games physical, and they know who they are. When you watch a Rio game you are going to see the same team every time. They have dealt with injuries and other things, but they have figured out a way to get it done at the end of the year.”
Long will be finishing his second full-year in Beckley. He has produced a 34-14 record, including a 11-6 record this season. Long is still learning, despite his early success.
“I think sometimes as coaches we do a bunch of crazy things and adjustments,” said Long. “I think the beauty of the details over and over. I think this year has validated how we do things and what we believe in. Just putting in the work on a daily basis. This year has shown me how meaningful everyday is, and how meaningful monotonous work is. I am glad that we are getting back to normal. I look forward to that everyday grind, and that we are getting back to.”
Tuesday’s game will be a matchup between two West Virginia natives James Long and Ryan Arrowood. Long is from the Charleston area. Arrowood is originally from Mason County.
“I know Ryan a little bit,” said Long of the West Virginia connection. “We are not incredibly close, but we do have a relationship through being in the River States. I definitely have great respect for what they are doing there and what they have done there. What they have done there is incredible. They play hard and they have great energy. They have an understanding of who they are.”
Coaches typically prepare a pregame speech for a big game, like a championship. Other times coaches will simply speak from the heart.
“I am not the hype-in for either pre or post game,” said Long. “It has never really been me. I am definitely not the type of guy to be rehearsed. It gets me in trouble sometimes. It makes for bad interviews sometimes because I rant and ramble because I am generally talking from the heart. When I go into the pregame it is usually from the heart. It is collected and I give a clear understanding of what needs done.”
Both West Virginia Tech and Rio Grande have received an automatic bid into the NAIA national tournament. Tipoff between the Golden Bears and Red Storm is set for 7:30pm at the Armory in Beckley.