For the first time in school history, Whitworth University’s NCAA Division III men’s basketball team has ascended to the pinnacle of the prestigious D3hoops.com top 25 poll.
And Jim Hayford, the Pirates’ 10th-year head coach, sees no reason to downplay the significance of the achievement.
“It’s a great day to be a Pirate,” Hayford said Monday. His unbeaten and previously second-ranked Bucs (21-0 overall, 12-0 in the Northwest Conference) jumped past previously top-ranked Wooster University – a 69-68 overtime loser to Wabash College on Saturday – and into the No. 1 spot in this week’s poll. “We’re an excited campus, and an excited group of alumni right now.”
The Pirates, who extended their regular-season NWC winning streak to 32 games with an 85-59 road win over Pacific Lutheran on Saturday, were ranked No. 16 in the D3.hoops.com’s preseason top 25 after advancing to the semifinals of last year’s NCAA Division III tournament. They have been climbing steadily in the rankings throughout the season and pushed their way into the top spot on Monday after both Wooster (20-1) and Augustana (20-1), the No. 3 team last week, lost at home last weekend. Williams (21-1) is now No. 2 and Amherst (20-0) is No. 3 followed by Wooster and Augustana.
“Very rarely in life will the world stop and recognize you as being the best,” Hayford said. “Like I told my guys, ‘No one will be able to take this away from you. You were No. 1 in the nation at one point in your lives.’ ”
Hayford noted, however, that there is a great deal of responsibility that comes along with the “privilege” of being recognized as the top team in the country.
“That means you’re going to get an even better shot from every opponent,” he explained, “because now, they’ve got a chance to beat the No. 1 team in the nation.
“We’re going to balance the privilege and responsibility and try to keep all these Whitworth people proud.”