Dustin McConnell, Colton McCargar take lead for Whitworth Pirates
Their coach calls them “Flash and Substance.” One plays tenaciously and piles points up quietly. The other creates points in a flurry.
One has curly blond locks and the other has a crew cut. About the only thing similar between Whitworth’s senior guard duo of Dustin McConnell and Colton McCargar is that they are both left handed.
“They are almost like yin and yang. They kind of feed off of each other,” Coach Matt Logie said of his two guards. “I don’t know where they rank exactly. I just know from a coach’s perspective, those are the two best shooters in the conference.”
Last year, Logie brought McCargar off the bench on the team that for the second-straight year had a 26-4 record. The Pirates also went 14-2 in winning the Northwest Conference and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III Tournament for the fifth time in school history. The Pirates are ranked 12th in the D3hoops.com Top-25 poll to begin the season.
“Colton has a little bit more of a free spirit, as scorers often do. He really thrives off his creative and his aggressive nature to score.” Logie said. “With Colton, he’s not afraid of the moment. There is nothing too big for him.”
Logie said he will rely heavily on their senior leadership as he looks to replace starting guard Wade Gebbers and inside players Zach Payne and Mack Larkin. In addition to the two senior guards, Whitworth returns 6-foot-4 forward George Valle and 6-8 forward Taylor Farnsworth, who continues to rehabilitate a shoulder injury.
“Despite all that turnover, I think that we are deeper this year than we have been in previous years just from a talent and depth standpoint,” Logie said. “What that talent and depth doesn’t possess yet is experience. That’s why the core group of returners will be critical from a leadership aspect.”
Logie returns four of his top five scorers returning along seven promising freshmen. To ease that transition, Logie said he will rely on McConnell, a 5-11 senior from Clarkston, who was a first-team all-conference player and led the Pirates in scoring with 13.7 points and 4.2 rebounds a game last year.
“Dustin is a very disciplined, extremely-hard working, tenacious competitor,” Logie said. “Dustin is more of a grinder. He’s always there. He’s always consistent and he never gets tired. You might not notice him all game and sure enough he has 17 points and only missed two shots the whole game.”
But ask McConnell and he says McCargar, who was a second-team conference selection despite coming off the bench, has the better shot.
“He’s definitely more of a pure shooter than I am,” McConnell said. “And, he can guard guys one-through-four because of his size.”
The 6-2 McCargar, from Richland, averaged 13 points and four rebounds mostly coming off the bench.
“We feel really good about that core group and experience they bring back,” Logie said.
Logie also spoke highly of senior guard Robby Douglas, who averaged 3.7 points and .9 rebounds last year. However, Douglas recently had a procedure on his knee and his availability may be limited to start the season.
Of his new players, Logie also had high praise for incoming freshman guard Kenny Love, a 6-1 guard from Santa Rosa, Calif.
Love “has been off to a great start. We are very excited about him,” Logie said. “And Christian Jurlina, a 6-5 forward, gives us a skilled perimeter player with some size.”
Jurlina, from Sydney, Australia, averaged 22.5 points a game for the New South Wales U20 team in a series of games with the Chinese U17 team.
Logie said he will continue to experiment with several players and lineups before the Pirates play their first game on Nov. 15 against Trinity University, an NCAA tournament team last year. That matchup is followed by a Nov. 22 home game against Old Westbury, which won 25 games last year.
“We are going to be tested early,” Logie said. “Our goal every year is to schedule the most difficult teams we can so we can prepare for an NCAA berth,” he said. “We feel that also prepares us very well for our conference.”
McConnell said he hopes for big things for the team. “Being our senior year, you try to make the most of every opportunity and enjoy every part of it,” he said.
Losing nearly 27 points and 11 rebounds a game to three graduated players, Whitworth coach Helen Higgs enters her 20th season hoping to develop existing players to score more as she tries to build on a breakout 21-7 record overall and 12-4 in the Northwest Conference.
Lost are Emily Guthrie, leading scorer Emily Travis and Lauren Picha. But the Pirates get back returning starters 5-10 senior forward Jamie Lyons; 5-10 senior forward Kendra Lahue; and 5-7 guard Kayla Johnson. Higgs also returns 5-6, sophomore guard K.C. McConnell, who provided a spark off the bench. She averaged 8.4 points and 4.4 rebounds a game last year.
“K.C. and Kayla are going to get more minutes. Jamie has a mindset that she has to score a little more,” Higgs said. “With the younger players, I think we have the capability to do that. We do have a transfer in Jessica Kramer from Lewiston and Alexis McLeod who was hurt last year.”
The Pirates finished third in the conference and then upset Lewis and Clark in the NWC tournament to qualify for the NCAA Division III Tournament. The season ended with a first-round loss to Emory University.
Higgs said she feels confident in several returning players, including Lexie Zappone, Katara Belton-Sharp and Bethany Fleming.
“We want to win the conference, but we also want to go to the NCAA tournament,” Higgs said.
“To do that, it’s work ethic. It’s daily work. We want to meet or exceed our level from last year.”
The first game is Nov. 15 against Pomona-Pitzer at Whitworth Fieldhouse.