West Liberty’s Ben Howlett Wins Furvari Award | News, sports, jobs

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West Liberty men’s basketball coach Ben Howlett cut the net after winning this season. Howlett led the Hilltoppers to the NCAA Division II National Championship game this season, where they fell to Nova Southeastern. (image courtesy)

WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. The list of previous Furfari Award winners is pretty impressive to say the least.

West Liberty University men’s basketball coach Ben Howlett thought the same when he was informed that he was the latest honoree.

“Very modest. Very modest , “ Howlett earned State College Coach of the Year honors. “I am aware of the other coaches in the state and the success of their programs. To be nominated and then voted for the winner is very humbling and I very much appreciate it.”

Named after state sportswriter Mickey Furfari, a Morgantown native who spent 70 years covering West Virginia University athletics, the tribute began in 1942 by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.

Howlett finished ahead of Glenville State women’s basketball coach Kim Stephens, last year’s winner. Marshall University men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni; and Shepherd’s football coach Ernie McCook in a vote by members of the Sports Writers Association W.C.

Howlett will be honored at the state’s oldest sporting event, the 76th Annual Victory Awards Dinner, on May 7 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.

“Just the list of these individual coaches and past winners is fantastic,” Howlett noted. “I have been a fan of some of these coaches, so to have me added to that list is an honor and a privilege.”

A former standout guard for the Hilltoppers, Howlett led the Black and Golds to the NCAA Division II National Championship this past season, his sixth as a head coach at his alma mater.

The high-scoring Hilltoppers fell to undefeated Nova Southeastern in the national title tilt in Evansville, Indiana, after winning the Mountain East Conference regular season and tournament titles as well as the Division II regional crown.

Nova Southeastern was coached by former West Liberty head coach Jim Crutchfield, who won the Furfari Award from 2011 to 2014.

“I never thought the season would go as well as it did. I remember sitting in the locker room after we lost a regular season game to Wheeling University in their place, not feeling good about our team,” he said. Howlett admitted. “We didn’t lose again until the national championship game. I don’t know how many wins in a row, but we’ve achieved a lot.

“I thought the men were convinced of each other and believed in themselves,” he added.

“They played some high level basketball and we won one short of being national champions.”

Howlett, a native of Marietta, became the fourth West Liberty coach to receive the Furfari Award. In addition to Crutchfield, former women’s basketball coach Len Olum, the current WLU athletic director, was honored in 2001 and head football coach Joe Bartell received the award in 1957.

Howlett said he was incredibly grateful to the 14 players on the team and especially proud of his three assistant coaches. “They don’t get the publicity they deserve.” Said about Michael Lamberti, Aaron Hoffman, and Conor Hart. “They work day and night.”

Past winners include Randy Mazey (WVU baseball, 2020); Nikki Ezzo Brown (WVU Women’s Soccer, 2017); Bob Huggins (WVU men’s basketball, four times); Bob Pruitt (Marshall Football, 1997-2000); and Joe Ritton (Vermont State men’s basketball, five times).

A list of all WVIA Sports Writers Association awards can be found at wvswa.org.

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