By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Five years ago, as she was readying herself to leave the comfort of the nest that was home in Steubenville, Ohio, Liz Repella was a hot item in basketball recruiting.
She had a mix of basketball skills and savvy along with the good looks that could help sell the sport. She was bright, witty and personable, the kind of player any university would want, but she didn’t want just any university.
She wanted a place where she would not only give to the school as an athlete, but take from it as a person.
She picked West Virginia.
Turns out it was a slam dunk.
On Thursday, Repella earned her second consecutive All-Big East first team selection, joining teammate Madina Ali, a second-team selection, in gaining honors as the league announced its annual award winners on the eve of the opening of the conference tournament in Hartford, Conn.
As always, Repella was humble in accepting the award.
“With any individual award there’s so many other factors that go into it with your teammates and coaches. I had a great four years with Coach (Mike) Carey. I’ve also been surrounded with great players, too,” she said.
And so it is, as the final games on the senior’s career wind down, the legacy she leaves the school is showing up. She is a Big East All-Conference player, an Academic All-American, the team has risen to a ranking as high as No. 6, it has gone to the Big East Conference final and now, this year, has two more chances to knock off Connecticut, facing them not only in the Big East Tournament but in the NCAAs.
Repella certainly gave the school what it wanted when it recruited her, but did the school give back to her?
She certainly believes that it did.
“I just grew so much as a person, not just a player,” she said. “All the relationships I started here will last a lifetime.”
That is relations with teammates, with coaches and with other students, for the school is a community and she has blended into it as athletes ideally should.
“This university it great. When my friends come to visit, they are always raving about how friendly people are here. I think that’s what attracted me in the first place. You walk by a stranger and they say hi to you. I like that kind of atmosphere,” she said.
She has always been this kind of goodwill ambassador for the school, selling it in person almost as well as she did in an advertisement for WVU that she was featured in as a student-athlete, a person who took advantage of both the athletic side and academic side of basketball.
This is important, especially in a woman athlete, for on most campuses like WVU they are not quite as big a celebrity as are the men athletes, their sports drawing smaller crowds, often losing money.
“Obviously the men are recognized more. People still recognize us, too, so you can’t go out and act like an idiot,” she said, laughing at the thought.
Repella’s senior season was a difficult one. The team had thought it could challenge Connecticut for the Big East title, but after a spectacular start of 16 consecutive victories, it fell apart and lost eight of its final 14 games, unable to generate much offense.
“Teams loaded up on Liz this year. We were struggling to score,” Carey noted.
Still, she was the leading scorer for the Mountaineers at 14.0 points a game, also leading in points (420), steals (61), 3-pointers made (58), 3-pointers attempted (171), field goals attempted (376), starts (30) and minutes played (1,021). She ranks fifth in the WVU record books for 205 career 3-pointers made and is only one of 27 players in the history of the program to reach the 1,000-point milestone as she has more than 1,500 points to date.
With 22 20-point games, Repella has led the team in scoring 42 times, led the team in rebounding 31 times and has done so in 98 career and consecutive starts.
Even this year, with opponents paying her special attention as other players slumped offensively, she virtually mirrored her All-Big East performance from last season, averaging 14.0 points a game to 13.9, shooting 39.4 percent to 38.8 percent, shooting 33.9 percent from 3-point range to 33.5 percent and improving her free-throw shooting dramatically from 61 percent to 76.9 percent.
Ali had to be a strong candidate for most improved in the league, an honor Carey thought she might win as she was named to the second team.
“Madina, in my opinion, is the most improved player in the Big East,” he said. “Look at her stats last year compared to this year. She played with an injury. She was not one of our main threats offensively last year. This year we kind of go as she goes.”
Ali went from averaging 6.1 points a game a year ago to 13.1 this year, her shooting improving from 41.7 percent to 55.1 percent and her free-throw shooting from 62.5 percent to 77 percent.
As a starter for two seasons with the Mountaineers, Ali recorded 10 double-doubles, including a 32-point showing against Syracuse this season. She has led WVU in rebounding 32 times and scoring 11 times in 66 games played. Her scoring average of 13.1 points per game is the second-highest average for WVU, and she leads the Mountaineers in rebounding at 7.1 a game, 10th in the conference.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.