WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. -- West Liberty University head wrestling coach Mitch Smith has announced that he is stepping down to pursue an opportunity outside of athletics that will allow him to spend more time with his growing family.
"This is one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make," Smith said. "West Liberty will always have a special place in my heart. I competed here, earned my bachelor's and master's degrees here and have been honored to serve as head wrestling coach at my alma mater. I will always bleed Black and Gold.
"I have been blessed to have such a supportive wife as Cortney and our beautiful 4-month-old daughter Emma is the best thing that's ever happened to me. This was an incredibly difficult decision but I know it's the best decision for me and my family."
Smith has had the Hilltoppers on an upward trajectory since taking the reins prior to the 2015 season.
West Liberty hadn't cracked the national rankings since 2012 but after a couple of solid recruiting classes, the Hilltoppers spent the entire 2017 season in the Top 25. Darius Bunch was the nation's No. 1-ranked 133-pounder for much of the year -- WLU's first No. 1-ranked wrestler since Smith did it in 2009 and 2010. Logan Kemp, another 2017 national qualifier, rose as high as No. 5 in the country at 197 this past fall but came up one win shy of All-America honors in Cleveland.
Smith's wrestlers have also impressed in the classroom. Five Hilltoppers were honored as 2018 NWCA All-Academic Team members with graduate student Tanner Sutton one of only a dozen NCAA Division II wrestlers nationwide to post a perfect 4.00 GPA.
Smith came back to WLU after three seasons as head coach at Alderson-Broaddus. A 3-time state champion and 2-time USA Wrestling national freestyle champion at Ripley (W.Va.) High School, Smith wrestled for two seasons at NCAA Division I Hofstra (N.Y.) before transferring to West Liberty.
The 2-time NCAA Division II All-American posted an impressive 58-9 record on the mat in his two years on the hilltop. He remained on the WLU campus for two seasons as an assistant coach before accepting the head coaching position at Alderson-Broaddus.
"On behalf of West Liberty University and the athletic department, I want to thank Mitch for his passion and commitment to our school and our wrestling program," athletic director Lynn Ullom said.
"Under his leadership, we have been able to transform our wrestling facilities into some of the finest in the region and I'm confident he has put our program in position to achieve great things in the very near future. I wish Mitch and his family all the best. He will always be a part of the West Liberty wrestling family."