BUCKHANNON — While just a small percentage of high school athletes go on to compete at the collegiate level in their chosen sports, even less make the transition smoothly and successfully. However, that hasn’t been an issue for West Virginia Wesleyan freshman and Fairmont Senior alumna Courtney Wilfong.
Despite her youth, Wilfong has already become a constant presence in the court for the Bobcats — she has started in each of the team’s six games so far this season, averaging 5.7 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. Her biggest impact in her short collegiate career came in a 67-64 win against regional rival Shippensburg on November 16th, where she tallied 16 points for Wesleyan, finishing second on the team in scoring.
For many collegiate freshmen, the responsibilities and expectations that come with a spot in the starting lineup at a more competitive level of play than they’re used to could be an intimidating or nerve-wracking experience — but Wilfong is determined to make the most of the opportunity and do what she can to ensure she continues to play a role for Bobcats each time she takes the floor.
“It’s honestly a blessing. As a freshman, everyone wants to play, but being a freshman and actually seeing that playing time is just an honor. You always have to play to keep your spot at this level — it’s never guaranteed, and you never know when there will be someone else,” she said.
The transition didn’t come with a fair amount of struggle though, as they move from prep sports to college sports rarely does. Wilfong admits that there have been numerous facets of the collegiate game that she is still taking time to adjust to.
“The speed is a lot different, and I’m playing against a lot of talent — in high school, there’s still talent, but not everybody you see is at this level. Another thing moving to this level is that I have had to learn to take more shots than I did in high school. I was more of just a true point guard,” she said.
Despite adapting to her new environment and the higher level of competition, she still has managed to make enough of an impact to remain a crucial piece for Wesleyan, who are currently 3-3 overall and 1-1 in Mountain East Conference play.
Fairmont Senior girls’ basketball coach Corey Hines — who led the program during each of Wilfong’s four seasons — said that while it’s exciting to see her have such success early, it’s not necessarily a surprise to him or others in the Fairmont community.
“That’s expected. We knew how hard she worked, and any success she sees we aren’t surprised. It was clear she deserved a shot to play basketball collegiately, and we’re very proud of her,” he said.
“You just have to go in with a clear mind and think about how you’re going to play those defending you. You have to study your opponents and watch how they defend, how they dribble, and how they shoot. You can’t be nervous, because the more nervous you are the worse you’re going to play,” Wilfong said.
The program at Fairmont Senior — which has made four Class AA State Championship appearances and captured two Class AA title this decade — is no stranger to its alumnae finding success at the collegiate level. Under the direction of Hines, the number of Polar Bears that have played collegiately is now in double-digits. Its apart of a culture he said he and his staff have worked hard to cultivate.
“If they want the opportunity to play in college we want to prepare them as best as possible. It started in my earlier years, and then more started coming in and getting the opportunity to continue that tradition. They set a standard in our program. In any program, you want to put your kids in the best place to succeed, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” he said.
“One thing you have to do is have some form of a partnership to point your kids in the right direction AAU wise. Another thing we do is that we don’t shy away from challenges. With our schedule, we always seek out tougher competition. And we’re very fortunate to use that to also allow us to play in March, where there’s a lot of attention and people get to see you.”