By Duane Cochran
For the Times West Virginian
For Kaitlin Snyder and Isaac Thornton the first step of their senior seasons and last step in their stellar careers begins tonight when Fairmont State University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams host their first-ever Fan Fest at the Joe Retton Arena from 7-9 p.m.
The event, which is open to both FSU’s student body and the general public, is free and will give individuals the opportunity to meet the Falcons’ men’s and women’s players up close and personal and see them in action in various competitions like 3-point shooting, basketball skills and the ever-popular dunk competition.
FSU’s men’s team also plans to scrimmage for 10 to 15 minutes during the event.
The first 200 fans in attendance will be treated to free pizza. There will also be various student/fan involvement contests.
“I think this is great for the student body and community,” said Snyder, the reigning West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year. “We’ve never had anything like this since I’ve been here. It’s nice that it’s early. We just started practice Monday and we kind of understand people have been talking about basketball season and looking forward to it and this gives them an opportunity to get an early look at both teams before the season begins in less than a month.
“I also love the fact that it incorporates both the men’s and women’s teams. The guys have a lot of new players this season and high expectations for themselves and to be honest we don’t know a lot of them ourselves. Therefore it’s a chance for us to get to meet them and see them in action, too.”
Fairmont’s men finished a disappointing 8-19 last season, but first-year head coach Jerrod Calhoun has added 13 new players to the Falcons’ roster including 6-7 Brendan Cooper, a first-team junior college All-America selection from Lakeland (Ohio) Community College, 6-9 senior Isaiah Hill, a third-team NAIA All-America pick and transfer from Mountain State University, 5-11 senior point guard Malik Stith, a transfer from St. Johns University and Chase Morgan, a 5-11 sophomore guard who transferred from Bluefield State where he led all freshman in NCAA Division II in scoring last year with an 18.8 points per game average.
“There’s no doubt last season didn’t go too well for us, but we’ve got a new coaching staff and a lot of new, talented players so there’s a lot of excitement around our program right now,” said Thornton, who led the team in scoring (21.5) and rebounding (6.7) last year and will be a four-year starter for the Falcons. “I think tonight is going to be a great opportunity for our student body and fans to get a little preview of us before the season gets started. We’ve been working hard and we’re looking forward to getting out there and showing everyone what we have right now at this point.”
Since taking over FSU’s men’s basketball program on April 19, Calhoun has been adamant about his players getting out in the community and meeting people. Thornton feels that experience has been a good one for the squad.
“Coach Calhoun is definitely big on us getting out in the community and talking to people and meeting them,” said Thornton. “Fairmont State has a great tradition in basketball and coach Calhoun really wants to build on that tradition and continue it.
“He wants the community to be involved with our team. It’s been a new and rewarding experience for us as players to get out in the public and meet people. We want them to come to our games, support us and have a good time doing it. That’s kind of what tonight is all about.”
Fairmont’s women’s team returns five starters from a squad that finished 18-10 overall and fifth in the 15-team WVIAC last season. Many feel the Lady Falcons will be sitting atop of the league’s annual preseason coach’s poll when its released in a few weeks.
“When you have five starters returning you’re expected to be better and there’s no doubt that we expect ourselves to be better this year,” said Snyder, a second-team All-America selection last year. “We understand the expectations for us are high this year, too, and I can honestly say as a team we’ve worked hard in the off season to improve in a lot of areas both individually and as a team.
“Coach (Steve) McDonald tells us we have enough talent that we can beat every team on our schedule, but if we’re not focused or committed to play hard and with great effort every night we could also potentially lose to any team on our schedule. I think one of our main goals during the preseason is to work on correcting the mistakes we made last year. We want to be better defensively and we need to be better defensively. I also think this year people are more comfortable with their roles on this team and understand them better and I believe that is going to benefit us.”
Like Thornton, Snyder hopes tonight’s event will help spark an interest in the FSU basketball programs which will carry over to the regular season which begins the weekend of Nov. 9-10 at home for both squads.
“We really want people to come out and support us,” said Snyder. “It makes a huge difference to have a lot of people in the stands cheering for you and pumping you up. That gives you a great home court advantage.
“Hopefully we’ll get a lot of people to come out Tuesday night, meet us and see what we’re about and then come to our games and support us. That would be great for both teams.”