6:00pm: Sunday Sportsline

Defending MEC champion Fairmont State moves forward without Bonner

— By Taylor Kennedy

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — The Fairmont State Falcons captured the program’s first Mountain East Conference championship a season ago.

A 15-5 campaign was highlighted by wins over West Virginia State, the University of Charleston and West Liberty in the MEC Tournament, before a four-point loss to Mercyhurst in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Falcons said goodbye to Dale Bonner, their leading scorer last season. Bonner left the program and joined defending Division I national champion Baylor after starting every game and averaging 21 points.

“Dale was great,” said Falcons’ third-year head coach Tim Koenig. “He is a great player and he is a great person off the court. He has high-level leadership. It happens. We love to keep these guys forever. Whether guys are moving onto the professional level, getting jobs, or in Dale’s case moving onto the Division I national champs, that is life. Guys step up.”

Fairmont State has six upperclassmen that saw the floor a season ago. Five of those six players averaged 20 or more minutes and Koenig views that core group as an anchor for this year’s team.

“Up and down we have great leaders,” noted Koenig. “We create an environment where we want player-driven leadership. I don’t micromanage. That is not my style. It is not easy competing every day, but our guys have done a great job at that.”

Fairmont Senior alum Zyon Dobbs is a player Koenig believes has blossomed in the offfseason. The 6-foot-4 Dobbs appeared in every game last season, including seven starts. He recorded 12 double-digit scoring performances en route to averaging 11.2 points.

“From a conditioning standpoint, he was off the charts,” stated Koenig. “He has handled the ball well. He has not turned the ball over. He leads our team in wins. We rotate our lineups and have different teams every day.”

Senior Isaiah Sanders, a 6-5 swingman, is also a key returner for the Falcons. Sanders tallied 20 or more points in 11 games last season, including a 31-point performance against the University of Charleston in the MEC Tournament. He is the team’s top returning scorer at 20.8 points.

Koenig is hopeful Sanders doesn’t try to do too much, but remains optimistic about the Sicklerville, New Jersey native.

“There are times he has struggled by maybe doing too much,” noted Koenig. “We keep reminding him how active and relentless he is. He plays so hard. We tell him to not forget who he is. When he is himself, he is one of the better players. He has come on and has been playing lights out the last few weeks, but he struggled early.”

MEC teams played a conference-only schedule a season ago, and this year teams are capitalizing on the ability to play out-of-conference contests.

Fairmont State will travel out-of-state and play Felician in New Jersey.

That will be a homecoming game for Sanders.

“We try and get something close to their hometowns,” Koenig said. “It will be a good thing for our team, but it will be good for his family. The whole family is coming out.”

Cole VonHandorf, a 6-2 guard, averaged 14.2 points last season and gives the Falcons a third double-figure scorer returning.

The Falcons will also play an exhibition game against Bowling Green and a regular-season game at University of the Sciences of Philadelphia.

Fairmont State opens its season November 13 at home in the Joe Retton Classic against Edinboro.

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