MORGANTOWN — One shoots a ball, while the other hits it. They both score … a lot.
Combined they are JJ squared.
In terms of looking ahead to the 2023-24 school year, WVU’s future is riding on the talents of J.J. Wetherholt and J.J. Quinerly.
The rising juniors did more than just leave their mark last season, they became two of the top players in their sports in the Big 12.
Wetherholt developed into the baseball star, one who became a national name while leading the country in hitting with a .449 average.
Quinelry is the leader of the women’s basketball team, one who excels in both scoring (14.5 ppg) and on defense (66 steals).
While they headline our top 10 WVU athletes to watch during the next school year, the rest of the list isn’t exactly far behind.
If Ceili McCabe can rebound from a disappointing finish at the 2023 cross-country national championships, she could become the school’s first-ever champion in that sport.
After getting back to the NCAA tournament in 2023, there is a heightened sense of optimism surrounding the WVU men’s basketball team, which signed one of the highest-ranked transfer classes in the country.
And then there is the story that is C.J. Donaldson, the WVU running back who was first recruited as a tight end.
That changed once the Miami native was on campus. All he did in his first college game was captivate a state by rushing for 125 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries against Pitt.
If the 2023-24 year is one in which WVU makes its presence felt in what will be a new Big 12 with 14 schools competing, these will be the top 10 athletes leading the way:
10. Tre Mitchell
In his first season in Morgantown, Mitchell developed into one of the offensive leaders for the Mountaineers, averaging 11.7 points per game while shooting 47% from the field.
The 6-foot-10 forward had 13 points and six rebounds in WVU’s loss against Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and he had two double-doubles and three games of 20 or more points. He also connected on 36 3-pointers.
PROJECTION: In what will be his final season of eligibility, we see Mitchell taking a step forward in what could be a well-balanced offensive team.
We’re thinking 12.5 points and six rebounds per game.
9. Peyton Hall
Heading into his senior year, Hall has already wrestled in three NCAA tournaments and he led the Mountaineers with nine wins by pinfall last season.
The Chester native finished with a 24-6 record, but finished just 1-2 in the NCAA tournament as the No. 14 seed in the 165-pound weight class.
He’s just two victories shy of reaching 70 for his career, but Hall will be looking for so much more. His off-season began by taking fifth at 163 pounds in the under-23 World Team Trials in Ohio.
PROJECTION: Hall has been a top 25 seed in each of his three NCAA tournaments, but just once was he seeded inside the top 10. He’ll add to that as a senior, reaching a second top-10 seed, as well as reaching double digits in pins.
8. Jose Perez
Without playing a single game last season, Perez still became a well-known name to hoops fans through his transfer appeals to the NCAA for immediate eligibility that were denied twice.
When last on the court, the 6-5 guard averaged 18.9 points at Manhattan in 2022. He was permitted to practice and work out with the team last season, but he’ll be making his first appearance in a WVU game a year later. He’ll do so with 1,460 career points and 338 assists under his belt.
PROJECTION: Perez has only shot better than 40% once in his career and he’s shooting 30% from 3-point range.
We see those numbers improving, because he’s now on a team where the opposing focus won’t solely be on him. We’re predicting 14 points and five rebounds per game.
7. Jesse Edwards
Of the five Division I transfers who will suit up for the first time in a WVU uniform this season, none are as imposing as Edwards.
The 6-11, 230-pound transfer from Syracuse averaged 14.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game last season.
The Amsterdam native had 14 double-doubles last season, including a 27-point, 20-rebound performance against Wake Forest. He also finished sixth in the nation with 87 blocked shots.
PROJECTION: WVU has been searching for a low-post threat in recent years, and Edwards could be that guy. In what will be his final season in college, we see Edwards leading the Big 12 in blocks and rebounds, while also chipping in 15 points per game.
6. Kayza Massey
She is the queen of the shutout, having pitched 19 of them over 43 games in the last two seasons.
Massey shared the Big 12 Goalkeeper of the Year award last season after recording a career-high 77 saves.
When the Mountaineers made a miracle run to the Big 12 tournament championship, Massey came up big with shutouts against No. 16 Texas in the semifinals and another one against No. 17 TCU in the finals.
For added measure, she added one more against Virginia Tech in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
PROJECTION: The Mountaineers could be climbing their way back up to the top team in the Big 12 and Massey would be a big reason why. In her final season, Massey should again be the top goalkeeper in the conference.
5. Zach Frazier
The junior from Fairmont continues to garner all-Big 12 preseason honors after a sophomore season that saw him go 11 games without allowing a quarterback sack.
He’s started 33 games in his first two seasons at WVU and earned all-Big 12 first-team honors last season.
PROJECTION: WVU appears to be leaning heavily on its running game in 2023 and Frazier will be the anchor of what looks to be a strong offensive line.
If the Mountaineers can climb to the top half of the Big 12 standings, Frazier could garner some national recognition for All-American honors.
4. Ceili McCabe
The most decorated athlete on our list also has maybe the most motivation to have a big 2023 season.
In terms of All-American honors, McCabe has been there. She’s also been the Big 12 Runner of the Year and Newcomer of the Year. She’s won Big 12 and Mid-Atlantic titles.
The only thing missing is a national championship.
McCabe was on the cusp of that last season in the national championship race.
She was in second place at the 2,000-meter mark (of 6,000 meters), but continued to slide back as the race went along and finished 24th overall.
McCabe was third overall in 2021.
PROJECTION: McCabe will definitely be the favorite for Big 12 and regional titles this season, but getting over the hump at the national level is the question.
North Carolina State’s Katelyn Tuohy and Florida’s Parker Valby dominated last year’s field. If McCabe is able to match their abilities, it would be one heck of a story.
3. C.J. Donaldson
A scary concussion against Texas eventually followed by a season-ending injury cut short one of the best stories of the past school year.
Donaldson was marked down as a tight end when he walked onto WVU’s campus as a true freshman.
That was until WVU needed help at running back and head coach Neal Brown saw some potential in Donaldson.
That was the start of a story that saw Donaldson, a 6-2, 239-pounder, rush for 380 yards and six touchdowns over his first four collegiate games.
Then came the game against Texas, when Donaldson took a knee to the back of the head on a play and had to be carted off the field. He returned from concussion protocols two weeks later.
His final game saw him rush for 104 yards and two scores against TCU, but injured his right leg in the fourth quarter, and was held out for the rest of the season.
PROJECTION: Donaldson getting back to full strength is the biggest hope for the Mountaineers this fall. Leddie Brown was the last WVU player — in 2020 — to average 100 yards rushing per game. We see Donaldson reaching that figure, too, to go along with 13 rushing TDs.
2. J.J. Quinerly
Quinerly became an all-Big 12 first-team player as a sophomore after averaging 14.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
The guard from Norfolk, Va. then surprised many in the off-season by not electing to enter the transfer portal.
Few could have blamed her after going through her first two seasons at WVU with two different head coaches.
Her career began with Mike Carey, who retired after her freshman season. Dawn Plitzuweit was hired, but after guiding the Mountaineers to the NCAA tournament in her first season, she left to become the head coach at Minnesota.
Her third season will be with Mark Kellogg, who spent the last eight years as the head coach at Stephen F. Austin.
WVU returns four starters from a team that finished 19-12 and lost to Arizona in the first round of the NCAAs.
Quinerly will likely surpass 1,000 career points and 200 career steals in just her third season, one that could see the Mountaineers get back into the NCAA tournament.
PROJECTION: In the history of the women’s program, only three players — Rosemary Kosiorek did it twice — have finished a season averaging 20 or more points a game.
We can see Quinerly getting there, too, but she’ll have to improve her long-range shooting to get there. She shot just 29.7% from 3-point range last season.
1. J.J. Wetherholt
The WVU second baseman was No. 8 on our list last year, and we projected his batting average would be .320 with eight home runs.
We were only off by 129 points on his average, but we were half right on his home runs.
Wetherholt led the nation with a .449 batting average, and he finished with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs in leading the Mountaineers back to the NCAA tournament and a share of their first-ever Big 12 title.
He also tied the school record with 101 hits and 177 total bases in one season.
What’s left to accomplish?
Well, the potential is there for the Mountaineers to return the bulk of their lineup for next season to go along with a talented cast of freshman pitchers who will now have a year of experience under their belts.
On paper, the Mountaineers could be better in 2024 than they were in 2023, and Wetherholt is the driving force behind all of that.
PROJECTION: The Big 12 hasn’t had a repeat Player of the Year since Nebraska’s Alex Gordon pulled it off in 2004-2005, and we see Wetherholt adding that accomplishment to his long list of others.
We’ll go with a .415 average with 17 home runs and 70 RBIs on a team that will likely be back in the top 25 polls and challenge to host a regional in the NCAA tournament.