by Caleb Mathena
In sports, it is all too easy to let one crucial moment define an entire season. However, both men’s and women’s basketball teams have chosen not to let their disappointments dictate their attitudes. Even after the men’s surprising loss in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament and the women’s fall to undefeated George Fox in the NWC semifinals, each team has dubbed its season as successful in the end.
This year was the women’s fourth consecutive appearance in the NWC tournament. It was also their fourth consecutive time finishing with a winning record.
For senior KC McConnell, the highlights of the season keep the losses in perspective.
“Probably the biggest highlight for me was our win down at Whitman when we beat them by three on their own court,” McConnell said. “It was a big upset and win for us in that rivalry game.”
McConnell was a large part of her team’s success. She led the Pirates in scoring this season with 514 total points and an average of 19.8 per game. She was also the leading rebounder with 166 total (an average of 6.4 per game). In the history of Whitworth women’s basketball, McConnell ranks third on the all-time scoring list, sealing her place among the university’s top-tier athletes.
But McConnell is also committed to success in the classroom and her community.
As a double major in kinesiology and education, she has maintained a 3.95 GPA and was selected as a First-Team Academic All-American for the second year in a row. On top of that, McConnell has been involved in community outreach projects through the Whitworth Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and the Boys and Girls Club. Her involvement in the community, combined with her performance in the classroom and on the court contributed to her being named as a finalist for the prestigious Josten s Trophy—an award her brother, former Whitworth guard Dustin McConnell, was also named as a finalist for.
The men’s season also came to an untimely end when they were upset by Whitman College. The Pirates, ranked third in the nation, were expected to continue their playoff run farther than the second round. Despite the loss, head coach Matt Logie maintains that his team “rose to the occasion.”
“One of the things that I’ve always tried to do is look at potential, whether it’s as individuals, as coaches or as a program, and say ‘What’s the ceiling for this group and this team?’” Logie said. “When we look back on how a season plays out, we can be proud of whatever results we have if we know we did everything within our power to reach that ceiling and I think this team came extremely close to doing that.”
The Bucs, who were at one point this season ranked first in the nation, finished 26-2 overall. This is the 10th year in a row they have been crowned NWC champions and it was also their 10th consecutive playoff berth. On average, the Pirates scored 13.6 more points, grabbed 4.5 more rebounds, made 6.6 percent more 3-pointers and sunk 8.5 percent more field goals than their opponents every game.
Senior George Valle, NWC player of the year, helped lead his team to the impressive season. Valle, who has been a starter ever since the beginning of his freshman year at Whitworth, was also a Jostens Trophy finalist, like McConnell. In fact, Whitworth was the only school to have two athletes as finalists for the award this year. This is also the first time Whitworth has ever had two finalists up for the trophy in the same season.
Valle is a marketing major and holds a 3.79 GPA. He was a named as a third-team Academic All-American and is also a member of Whitworth’s National Honor Society.
“My personal highlight was when we clinched the NWC Regular Season Championship at PLU and a home game for the NWC tournament,” Valle said. “It was a great accomplishment for the team because we had set that goal at the beginning of the year and were able to reach it. We put in a lot of hard work to get to that point.”
Valle finished his career ranking seventh on Whitworth’s all-time scoring list.
“George followed a path that had been blazed before him,” Logie said. “One thing is for certain, he is one of those guys that our program will point to for years on end.