SPOKANE, Wash. – The 2012-13 women's basketball season will open in Texas on November 16th. However, the Pirates will be without the help of First Team All-Northwest Conference Lexi Belcher, who graduated after the 2011-12 season.
Though the Bucs lose the top scorer from the 2011-12 campaign, Whitworth returns 11 players from last year's roster and 10 of the top 12 scorers. Whitworth will also feature some new faces, as the Pirates have seven true freshmen on the roster.
"Luckily we have a number of great leaders on our team willing to step into bigger roles," Higgs said. "I don't know that one person will pick up the void that Lexi (Belcher) leaves, but I think there are a number of people who can give us more than they did last year."
After finishing last season 11-14, including a 7-9 record in NWC play, Whitworth looks to be more productive on the court in 2012-13. Last season, the Pirates lost seven games by eight points or less, including an overtime loss.
"Our goals are to be in a position to win every game, and to win our close games consistently," Whitworth head coach Helen Higgs said. "To do this, we have set goals in a number of statistical categories that will improve our performance and hopefully the outcome of the games."
The Pirates return four of the five starters from the 2011-12 season, including two players who finished the season averaging double-figures for the Bucs.
The Bucs return two of the top three scorers as junior guard Kayla Johnson averaged 11.6 points per game and senior guard Emily Guthrie averaged 11.4 points per game. Both Johnson and Guthrie started all 25 games. Johnson averaged 6.6 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game, while Guthrie averaged 4.3 rebounds per game and 2.9 assists per game.
Whitworth also returns senior guard Lauren Picha and junior forward Jamie Lyons. Picha started all 25 games, averaging 9.7 points per game, 2.8 rebounds per game and 2.1 assists per game. Lyons averaged 5.7 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game, starting in 24 of 25 games.
"This group has worked hard in the off season and every player has improved," Higgs said. "I am excited to see how this will manifest itself on the court."
The Bucs return four additional guards and three forwards. Sophomore Kendra Knutsen saw action in all 25 games last season, averaging 2.0 assists per game, while junior Jenna Cacchillo played in 22 games and averaged 2.0 points per contest. Freshman Lexie Zappone saw action in seven contests, while Emily Travis played in three games last season.
Junior Kendra Lahue played in all 25 games last season, averaging 5.6 points per game and 2.7 rebounds per game. Sophomore Katara Belton-Sharp played in 23 contests, and averaged 1.3 rebounds per game for the Bucs. Junior Bethany Fleming saw action in 18 games, averaging just under 2 points per game.
In addition to the 11 returners, this season's roster features seven true freshmen that look to fill every position on the floor.
Briann Maley and Mikayla Kraemer will play post/forward positions, while Lexxi Hallberg, Faith Emerson and Jessica Logan will fill in the forward positions. KC McConnell and Alexis McLeod look to fit into the guard rotation for the Bucs.
The group brings a variety of experience from high school with them, as they have an all-time leading scorer, several state championship appearances and a state championship win between the seven of them.
"This is a strong freshman class," Higgs said. "I'm not sure how we can get them on the court with the quality of our returners. But I am so excited about this class and what the near and distant future holds in store for these talented hard working young ladies."
The Pirates will face tough competition in their 2012-13 schedule. Whitworth will open the season in Texas, playing games against Texas Lutheran and Mary Hardin-Baylor in the Southwestern Tip-Off Tournament. After Texas, the Bucs will travel to California, where they will face several teams, including Occidental and D3hoops.com preseason Second Team All-American guard Mackenzie Brandon.
The Bucs will welcome Colorado College to the Fieldhouse for the first home game of the season in late November. Whitworth will also host Warner Pacific in non-conference play.
In Northwest Conference action, Whitworth will face two D3hoops.com preseason Top 25 teams. After finishing as the runner-up in the DIII National Championship, George Fox returns center Hannah Muncher, who is a preseason First Team All-American, and the Bruins are ranked second in the preseason Top 25 polls. Lewis & Clark boasts guard Kristina Williams, who earned a preseason Second Team All-American nod, and the Pioneers are ranked 11th in the D3hoops.com Top 25.
Despite facing top-ranked teams in NWC play, the Pirates set a high goal for the 2012-13 season.
"We believe we should strive to win the conference--not an easy task in our conference with the quality and depth but why settle for less," Higgs said.
Now in her 19th season at Whitworth University, Helen Higgs is the winningest and longest serving women's basketball coach in school history. Not only does she have a record of 263-192 heading into the 2012-13 season, the most wins in school history, her winning percentage of .578 is also the best all-time among Pirate women's basketball coaches.
Since becoming members of the NCAA in 1999, Higgs put together the best stretch of records in school history. Under Higgs, the Pirates have won two conference championships and a conference tournament, placed in the sweet sixteen at the NAIA Division II national championships and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Higgs has been named Northwest Conference Coach of the Year three times.