There’s nothing like a few losses to build some confidence.
Ironically, that’s what happened in November to the Whitworth men’s basketball team, which dropped its first two games of the year but learned about itself in the process.
A thee-point exhibition loss at Division I Idaho State was followed by a five-point home defeat to St. Thomas, the current top-ranked team in Division III.
“That gave us some confidence,” said head coach Matt Logie, whose team answered the offseason questions emphatically by winning its next 20 games, another Northwest Conference championship and a berth in the Sweet 16.
In some ways, the coaches and players answered them even before the season started.
Taylor Farnsworth and Zach Payne stepped up to fill some big shoes in the post, freshman George Valle contributed immediately and guard Colton McCargar became one of the top sixth men in Northwest Conference history.
It all came together in March, with a No. 6 ranking and the chance to host three straight national tournament games for the first time in school history.
“I think the last month of our season, not only for our players, but the fans, communuty that got to share in the playoff games at home, that was really special,” said Logie, whose second Whitworth club finished 26-4 and duplicated the record of his first.
Along the way, the Pirates won their fourth straight NWC title and finished a wire-to-wire lead in the NWC race, ranked as high as third in the nation while reaching their seventh straight Division III tournament.
The development of Farnsworth, a 6-foot-8 post from Mead High School, “was a big part of our success,” said Logie, who had lost All-American Felix Friedt from the previous season. “He had great offseason preparation, and I thought he and Zach pushed each other hard to improve.”
Farnsworth, who still has two years of eligibility, averaged 9.9 points and a team-high five rebounds.
Meanwhile, freshman wing Valle made an impact from the start, finishing with 12.2 points and 3.9 rebounds and allowing Logie to make the most of a veteran backcourt that included Wade Gebbers, Dustin McConnell and McCargar.
“Colton and I met before the season started,” Logie said. “And I shared with him some of the dynamics we had with having somebody coming off the bench with a scoring mentality.”
While acknowledging that “we could have flip-flopped (Valle and McCargar),” Logie said the move allowed Valle to play with more confidence as a starter while McCargar averaged 12.7 points a game and earned second-team All-NWC.
And while the Pirates graduate Payne and starters Gebbers and Mack Larkin, the outlook for next year looks promising.
Leading scorer and first-team All-NWC guard McConnell (13.2ppg, 4rpg) returns for his senior year, along with McCargar.
“His ability to lead has really grown,” Logie said of McConnell.
And then there was Valle, a true freshman who figured to make an immediate impact and certainly did.
“We’re thrilled with George’s year and for what the future holds for him,” Logie said. “With his physical and mental toughness, he was able to have early success.”