The Whitworth University women's basketball team opens the 2013-14 season this weekend with a pair of games in the Whit Classic on Friday and Saturday in Whitworth Fieldhouse.
The Pirates host Pomona-Pitzer at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, November 15th and then take on fifth-ranked St. Thomas (Minn.) at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 16th. Both games will have live stats and video stream.
The Pirates: Whitworth enters the weekend looking to build off the success it had during the 2012-13 campaign. The Pirates finished the season with a 21-7 overall record and a 12-4 mark in the NWC. Whitworth, the three seed in the NWC Tournament, defeated Whitman and Lewis & Clark to claim the NWC Tournament championship and earn the automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Whitworth returns senior starters Jamie Lyons, Kayla Johnson and Kendra Lahue. Johnson was the second-leading scorer last season, averaging 10.3 points per game, and led the Pirates in rebounding, pulling down 4.6 boards per contest. Lyons averaged 6.3 points per game and 3.6 rebounds per contest while Lahue averaged 7.7 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game.
Sophomore KC McConnell was the second-leading rebounder with 4.4 boards per contest and averaged 8.4 points per game, while shooting 50 percent from behind the three-point line.
The Sagehens: Whitworth opens the season against Pomona-Pitzer on Friday. It will be the third meeting between the two schools, with the Pirates leading the series, 2-0.
The Sagehens finished last season with an overall record of 6-17 and went 5-11 in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC).
Pomona-Pitzer has a relatively young roster this season, with six of the 13 players on the roster being freshmen. However, the Sagehens return leading scorer and rebounder from 2012-13, sophomore Jenn Okonkwo, who averaged 10.8 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per contest. Junior Ruthie Shapiro also returns for Pomona-Pitzer, after leading the team with 1.9 steals per game last season.
The Tommies: Whitworth will conclude the Whit Classic against St. Thomas, who is ranked fifth in the D3hoops.com preseason poll. It will be the first meeting between the two schools.
The Tommies finished last season with an overall record of 24-6 and won the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) tournament title after going 17-4 in conference action.
St. Thomas returns senior All-America Taylor Young, who has 981 career points and 78 blocked shots. The Tommies also return junior Jenna Dockter, who led the team with 11.6 points per game last season. Leading rebounder Anna Smith, who pulled down 6.5 boards per contest last year, returns for her junior campaign in 2013-14.
Fun Fact: Whitworth claimed five victories over ranked opponents in the 2012-13 season, but did not play a ranked team in the nonconference portion of the season. The team earned its first win over a ranked opponent on January 9th, defeating Whitman. The Pirates have a chance to start upsetting teams early, as they host fifth-ranked St. Thomas on Saturday.
Preseason Poll: The 2013-14 Northwest Conference women's basketball coaches' preseason poll was released by the league office last week.
Whitman was selected by the NWC coaches to claim the 2013-14 title after making a run in the NCAA tournament last season. The Missionaries are the 11th-ranked team in the D3hoops.com preseason poll.
Lewis & Clark, the regular season champion in 2012-13, was voted to finish second in the NWC. One point separated Lewis & Clark from the Bruins of George Fox, who were voted to finish third. The Pioneers graduated NWC Player of the Year, Kristina Williams, and the Bruins graduated four-time All-NWC First Team selection, Hannah Munger.
Whitworth was voted to finish fourth in the NWC. The Pirates were the third seed in the 2012-13 tournament and graduate leading scorer, Emily Travis, starting point guard, Lauren Picha, and starting shooting guard, Emily Guthrie.
Puget Sound was voted to repeat its fifth place finish in the conference in 2013-14. Pacific (Ore.) finished 10 points back for sixth place in the preseason vote.
Seven points separated the seventh through ninth place teams. Linfield was selected to finish seventh after a 3-19 finish put them eighth in the conference last season. Pacific Lutheran finished two points behind Linfield in the preseason voting for eighth place, one spot lower than the Lutes finished the 2012-13 season. After finishing last season in ninth place, Willamette was voted to conclude the 2013-14 season in the same spot.
The Coach: Now in her 20th 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 284-199 heading into the 2013-14 season, the most wins in school history, her winning percentage of .588 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. Whitworth went 124-53 (.700) in the seven seasons from 1999-2005.
Next Up: Whitworth will travel to California for the Hampton Inn Classic II at UC-Santa Cruz on November 22-23.