FAIRMONT — For months, she was ignored and passed over by college coaches even as her team affirmed its status as one of the best in the state. But after Fairmont Senior’s Courtney Wilfong hounded and tormented one future-collegiate guard after another during the Lady Polar Bears’ state tournament run, which ended with her and her FSHS teammates taking the Class AA state championship trophy, college programs didn’t dare overlook her any longer.
Following Wilfong’s performance in the state tournament, which ranged from her standard authoritative defense to her always poised offense, colleges that were once doormant in their recruiting efforts came calling, she said.
And on Wednesday, Wilfong officially made good on her goals to play college basketball as she committed to West Virginia Wesleyan College, choosing the Lady Bobcats over fellow Mountain East Conference schools Glenville State and West Virginia State as well as various smaller schools.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Wilfong said, “because I’ve been playing basketball since fourth grade like non-stop and playing college has always been the goal.”
Wilfong said she really started zeroing in on WVWC in May, when she took an official visit and was enamored with the campus as well as the Lady Bobcats’ coaching staff and head coach Vicky Bullett.
“Every person I’ve ever talked to about Wesleyan talks about how it’s a great environment and a great educational school because obviously education comes first,” said Wilfong, who plans to study exercise science. “I have never heard a bad thing.”
Wilfong, whose mother, Crystal, is originally from the Buckhannon area, she said, becomes the third member of the Lady Polar Bears’ title team to commit to playing basketball in college, joining Anysa Jordan at Eastern Kentucky and Abby Faulkner at West Virginia State.
“I’m very happy for Courtney and I’m very proud of her,” said FSHS coach Corey Hines, who became Wilfong’s loudest and most frequent promoter of her merits as a collegiate player throughout the season. “Sometimes when you make a lot of sacrifices, your team can be successful but you can get overlooked. I was speaking for her a lot, because I thought people were sleeping on her.”
“He was like my personal go-to guy; at states he broadcasted everything,” said Wilfong of Hines’ campaigning on her behalf. “He made it a point to where he was gonna get me a scholarship; there was no doubt in his mind that I was going to play college basketball.
“I’ve obviously had many people and coaches there for me like my AAU coach Jen Curry, but by far Corey Hines was there the most.”
Hines’ advocating of Wilfong almost became a postgame ritual during the season, with Wilfong’s impact always sold short by traditional and gaudy stats like point totals.
As a rabid defender, even-keeled director of the offense, and most importantly, a gritty, competitive leader without a care in the world for personal glory, Wilfong established herself as the ultimate gamer.
“She wanted to win. That was Courtney’s thing,” Hines said. “She wanted to win games, she wanted to win titles. And she understood that in some situations for you to reach those points, you have to make those sacrifices.”
“I didn’t get as many of the accolades or anything, but I still knew I was helping my team and my teammates,” said Wilfong, who still earned a spot on the Class AA all-state second team. “That’s really all that matters to me.”
That attitude won her over in the eyes of Bullett in the Bobcats, who revered her leadership abilities as well as her hallmark tenacious defense as her top qualities, Wilfong said based on her conversations with WVWC coaches. Y
et, for the majority of the season, even with her high-quality character traits and basketball purist’s approach, Wilfong received little interest from Division II programs, including in-state MEC schools. She had Hines preaching in her ear if she stayed the course, offers would arise, but she admitted she questioned how she was being perceived by outsiders.
“There are some players who I’ve played against and have done better than that are going D-I and D-II, and I never really understood why I didn’t get as much attention,” she said. “But I just rode it out and trusted the process.”
On the season’s biggest stage at the state tournament in Charleston, Wilfong played at her peak, sending ripple effects through the minds of spectators and scouts. She balled out on both ends.
Frankfort’s Abby Beeman, a Shepherd commit, and Jasmine Blankenship, a Concord commit, cracked against her defensive pressure in the state semifinal and title games, respectively. And on offense, her gutty drives and mature caretaking guided FSHS through some rickety shooting performances.
The breakout state tournament and subsequent choosing between multiple collegiate offers were a fitting self reward for Wilfong to cap a four-year career she so often used to boost others up.
“Not only did she have belief in the system, her coaches and her teammates,” Hines said, “but she also had the belief in herself.”