Mitch Smith, NCAA All-American wrestler and assistant coach at West Liberty University, is returning to his college home as head wrestling coach, the West Virginia-based school announced last Friday.
Smith replaces Brian Davis, himself a former West Liberty wrestler and head coach for nine seasons, who announced his retirement from coaching following the 2014-15 season “in order to pursue other interests,” according to the statement announcing Smith’s hiring. Athletic director Jim Watson said of the departing coach, “First of all, I want to express our appreciation to Brian Davis for all of his hard work and commitment to our student-athletes during his eight years with the wrestling program. We wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.”
“We’re very pleased to welcome Mitch back to campus,” Watson continued. “As a former All-American and assistant with the program, Mitch is well-versed on our 50-plus years of wrestling tradition at West Liberty and he’s excited about the opportunity to help build on that foundation.”
“I want to thank Athletic Director Jim Watson and President Dr. John McCullough for this opportunity,” new head coach Smith responded. “It’s a dream come true for a college wrestler to come back to his alma mater as the head coach. I’m looking forward to the process of getting our program back to where it belongs, ranked among the top teams in the country. My staff and I will hit the ground running to get that accomplished.”
Smith brings impressive wrestling and coaching credentials to his alma mater. Most recently, he has spent the past three seasons as the head coach who established the wrestling program at Alderson-Broaddus University (previously Alderson-Broaddus College), a four-year Division II school also located in West Virginia, northeast of Charleston. Under Smith, the Battlers made their intercollegiate debut with an all-freshman squad in the 2013-14 season and just concluded their second full year of varsity competition. Among the highlights of Smith’s tenure at A-B were a team championship in the 2015 Southern Virginia Invitational, a fourth-place finish in the 2015 West Virginia Intercollegiate Championships and a Top 20 ranking in the Division II Wrestling Coaches Association’s All-Academic Team rankings. Four A-B wrestlers earned national All-Academic Team honors last month.
Smith’s wrestling roots are deep in West Virginia. He was a three-time state champ at Ripley High School, compiling a 195-3 record. He also won a pair of USA Wrestling national freestyle titles before heading off to NCAA Division I Hofstra University on Long Island, New York to launch his collegiate wrestling career. After two seasons at Hofstra, Smith transferred to West Liberty for his final two years and earned NCAA Division II All-America honors in 2009 and 2010. He was ranked No. 1 in the nation at his weight at some point in each of his two years with the Hilltoppers and finished his West Liberty career with an impressive 58-9 record.
West Liberty University, a four-year public school, is located in West Liberty, W.Va., just outside Wheeling, between Pittsburgh and Columbus. The school was established as West Liberty Academy in 1837 — a quarter-century before the state of West Virginia was admitted to the Union – to provide educational opportunities west of the Appalachian ridge, according to the school’s website. The Hilltoppers wrestling squad competes in NCAA Division II.
Arguably West Liberty’s most famous wrestling alumnus is Bobby Douglas. The African-American wrestling and coaching pioneer who went on to wrestle at two Olympics then serve as head coach at Arizona State and Iowa State grew up in nearby Bridgeport, Ohio. Douglas launched his collegiate career at West Liberty in the early 1960s, then transferred to NCAA Division I powerhouse Oklahoma State.