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Whitworth men, women open seasons at home

The Whitworth men’s and women’s basketball teams open their seasons Saturday at Whitworth Fieldhouse as both teams bring three new starters into programs that earned their way into the NCAA Division III Tournament last season.

Coach Matt Logie must replace All-American Dustin McConnell and All-conference battery mate Colton McCargar from last season’s team that finished 23-6 and won the Northwest Conference for the fifth consecutive time.

The Pirates, who are ranked No. 17 by D3hoops.com, play D’Youville College, of Buffalo, N.Y. The Spartans finished 1-24 last season.

Logie said he expects to start 6-foot junior Matt Staudacher, who transferred in from Simon Fraser, at the point guard. At shooting guard, Logie will play 6-1 Kionte Brown (Shadle Park) at the shooting guard and will bring 6-1 guard Kenny Love as the first player off the bench.

The other starters are leading returning scorer Christian Jurlina, a 6-5 sophomore from Sidney, Australia; senior 6-8 post Taylor Farnsworth (Mead); and 6-4 junior forward George Valle.

“We’ll have the luxury of putting different offensive threats on the floor and still maintain good perimeter defense,” said Logie, who is 75-14 in three seasons. “We’ve tried to prioritize our defensive identity to start and finish games.”

Staudacher was one of four transfers and six new players overall for the Pirates who now have 10 players who are 6-5 or taller.

“The first thing we hope that depth allows is to keep our defensive intensity high,” Logie said. “And, it allows guys to be fresher down the stretch.”

Farnsworth said Logie specifically recruited players with experience to help cushion the loss of McConnell and McCargar.

“We’ve been able to develop faster because of their experience,” Farnsworth said.

Valle agreed, saying the team has the depth to challenge anyone it plays.

“I think we will be able to do really well, again,” he said.

Higgs excited

Like Logie, women’s coach Helen Higgs has to replace three starters, including leading scorer Kayla Johnson.

The Pirates finished 21-8 last year and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament by knocking off Whitman in the conference championship. It was rewarded by being paired against the same Whitman team that won, advanced and eventually lost the national championship game.

D3hoops.com has the Pirates ranked No. 20 while conference foe Whitman is ranked No. 2 and George Fox is ranked No. 25.

Whitworth will be led by returning starting guards Lexie Zappone and KC McConnell.

“We are excited to play somebody to find our depth and our rotation,” Higgs said. “We are trying to find the best combination to play solidly both offensively and defensively.”

Higgs, who has a career mark of 305-207 in 20 years, said other players to watch include 5-5 senior guard Kendra Knutsen (Shadle Park), 5-9 senior forward Katara Belton-Sharp (Ferris), 5-9 senior forward Jessica Kramer, 5-8 junior guard Alexis McLeod and 5-8 junior forward JoJo Nicolas. Belton-Sharp said she’s excited for game time to arrive.

“We have two returning starters and a lot of players who played a lot of minutes,” She said. “We still have that chemistry as a team.”

McConnell, who is the younger sister of Dustin McConnell, said she feels good about the experience on the team.

“Our big focus is to try to not overlook anyone,” she said. “We play in one of the top basketball conferences in the nation. There can be an upset on any given night. Hopefully, we’ll peak at the right time.”

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