In more ways than one, Whitworth hopes to hit the ground running this season: A challenging early schedule, some big holes to fill, and best of all, coach Matt Logie says, “Some young guys itching to make an impact.”
Those new guys will get the chance to help Whitworth do what it does every season - shrug off the loss of several talented players and move on. Last year, in Logie’s first season the Pirates went 26-4 and reached the Sweet 16 of the Division III national tournament for the third straight year.
“We want to reach our potential as a team,” said junior guard Dustin McConnell. “Nobody knows what that is right now, but a big way of doing that is taking little steps every day.”
Those steps will quicken soon. The Pirates are at home against Division III powers St. Thomas (Nov. 17) and Mary Hardin-Baylor (Nov. 23).
“That says a lot about our program that those teams are willing to come play here,” says senior guard Wade Gebbers. “It’s exciting for us. We’re ready and we know our students will be excited.”
For Logie, the games are an early measuring stick for a Pirates team which enters the season ranked 14th in the D3hoops.com preseason poll but loses its two top scorers and rebounders from last season in wing Idris Lasisi and post Felix Friedt.
“Everyone is trying to position themselves for the postseason,” said Logie. “They are willing to challenge themselves, as are we. I’m not sure that week in and week out you’re going to see the same level of competition in the Northwest Conference.
“We’re hopeful that some of our newcomers can hit the ground running.”
They’ll get help from Gebbers and McConnell, perhaps the best guard tandem in the conference. Gebbers, a senior from Brewster, was a team captain and second-team all-NWC pick last season, averaging 12.8 points and 3.4 assists while playing almost 34 minutes a game.
“Wade’s the guy that the players look to and put the team on his back in some respect,” Logie said, praising Gebbers’ ability to score and defend.
McConnell, a junior from Clarkston, averaged 7.7 points while shooting 87 percent from the foul line.
“Dustin had a great sophomore year as his confidence grew, and he’s ready to pick up where he left off,” Logie said.
Guard Colton McCargar, a junior from Richland, appeared in 29 games, averaging 4.7 points and hitting 46 percent from 3-point range. “He established himself as our sixth man, someone we could rely on, especially on perimeter shots,” Logie said.
Forward Mack Larkin, a 6-foot-5 forward from Anacortes, Wash., is the Pirates’ top returnee in the frontcourt, averaging 7.0 points and 3.8 rebounds. He is looking “more comfortable in the four position than he did at the start of last season,” Logie said.
Senior Zach Payne and junior Taylor Farnsworth of Mead are the other frontcourt returnees with experience.
It’s too early to say who will step up in the post, Logie said. “We might not necessarily be as deep in the front court, but the guys who are returning were challenged in games and in practice.”
The Pirates’ six-player recruiting class “addressed some areas of depth,” said Logie, who was hired in the spring of 2011 and didn’t have a chance to develop a full class his first year.
Helen Higgs enters her 19th season as head coach with a team that returns five of last year’s top six scorers. The Pirates hope to improve on last year’s record – 11-14 overall and 7-9 in the Northwest Conference - for the second straight season.
The Pirates lose leading scorer Lexi Belcher, but return 5-foot-7 junior guard Kayla Johnson, who averaged 11.6 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds. Also back are 5-foot-7 senior guards Emily Guthrie and Lauren Picha.
Guthrie was the Pirates’ third-leading scorer last year with an 11.4 average and ranked third in rebounds with 4.3 a game. In addition to a 9.7 scoring average, Picha proved to be the Pirates’ top outside shooting threat, hitting 38.7 percent of her 3-point attempts.
Jamie Lyons and Kendra Lahue, both 5-foot-10 juniors, may see an increased role in the frontcourt. Lyons started in 24 games last year and averaged 5.7 points and 4.1 boards. Lahue appeared in every game and averaged 5.6 points.
Sophomore Kendra Knutsen, a 5-foot-5 guard from Shadle Park, adds depth in the backcourt.
Entering this season, Higgs is 263-192, the most wins in school history.