Asked about Whitworth’s historic run of success, men’s basketball coach Matt Logie made a scary prediction: The 2015 team may be his best yet.
The Pirates enter the season ranked No. 3 in the nation and have won the Northwest Conference regular-season title for six consecutive seasons.
Heading into his fifth season at Whitworth, Logie has compiled a staggering 100-18 record and has become the first coach in Division III history to hit the century mark after only four years. He’s averaged 25 wins and 4.5 losses over that span while never missing the NCAA Division III tournament and twice reaching the Sweet 16.
“I think we are as talented a group as we’ve had in the last few years,” Logie said, “which is saying quite a bit.”
The Pirates return four starters, including junior guard Kenny Love, who was named to the second-team Preseason All-America Team by D3hoops.com and is the reigning Northwest Conference Player of the Year.
The Pirates also have the guy who finished second in the POY voting: wing Christian Jurlina, also a junior, who led the team in scoring (14.8 points) and rebounding (5.4) per game.
Whitworth also gained the services of guard AJ Grant, who transferred in from George Fox. Grant was named the preseason conference player of the year before an injury kept him out last season. He won’t be eligible to play until Dec. 19.
“It’s still early,” Logie said, “but we have a talented, experienced group especially in the backcourt. Eighty percent of our scoring and assists are back.”
However, the Pirates lost the post presence of centers Taylor Farnsworth and Adam Wilks to graduation.
“They were very valuable senior leaders for us,” Logie said of the 6-foot-8 Farnsworth and 6-7 Wilks. “But, we have the versatility to be productive in those areas.”
The team returns 6-10 post Drew Sears, a junior, who battled injuries most of last year, and 6-5 sophomore Ekow Nottinson-Nyaaku (Gonzaga Prep), who also has battled back injuries at the beginning of his career.
Sears “has gotten off to a great start,” Logie said. “Ekow’s got really long arms and he’s very active. He does a great job finishing.”
Added to the mix is Ben Bishop, a 6-8, 240-pound freshman from Olympia.
Bishop “is a talented young player who will have opportunities to get on the floor,” Logie said.
But Logie hinted that he may get away from playing a traditional post, depending on the situation.
Starting point guard Matt Staudacher, a senior, returns as does senior forward George Valle, who has played everything from point guard to center.
“George is a position unto himself,” Logie said. “His versatility is probably his biggest strength.”
The team also returns key backups in guard Derek Isaak and 6-7 forward Forrest Baker, who does most of his damage from behind the 3-point line.
Logie also had good things to say about 6-4 freshman guard Kyle Roach, who can play anywhere from the point to the wing.
“I think we always are looking for ways to maximize the abilities of our players,” Logie said. “This year, we will be able to do that in a number of ways. We have the possibility of playing a smaller group of highly versatile and skilled players.”
After three consecutive 21-win seasons, the Whitworth women’s team enters the new season with only one returning starter.
Coach Helen Higgs, who is the longest-tenured and winningest coach in program history (326-212), must build a new team around first-team all-conference guard KC McConnell, who led the Pirates in points (16.5) and assists (2.1) and was tied for second with 5.8 rebounds a game.
“She is a great athlete who understands the game,” Higgs said. “She will have to carry a big load early on to get us all on the same page.”
The team also returns 5-8 senior Alexis McLeod, 6-foot senior forward Faith Emerson and 5-9 sophomore Callie Harwood. Although she had a year of eligibility left, starting point guard Lexie Zappone did not return. But, the team returns 5-4 junior point guard Jessica Thoens.
“We have a nice group of returning players who have experience,” Higgs said.
But with roster full of mostly new players, Higgs will have her hands full finding continuity.
“We are playing a lot of scrimmages,” she said. “Each time we do something were are more cohesive and more under control.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.