New faces for 2013
|Wade Gebbers isn't a new face
at Whitworth at all, but he has new faces around
Whitworth athletics photo
Matt Logie and his assistant coaches hit the recruiting trail hard, bringing in a bounty of six newcomers that very well could rank as Whitworth's best class of newcomers yet. Ultimately, this group could shape the Pirates' future, not to mention determine whether or not they make another run through the brackets.
For now, Whitworth's transition game into the future will be orchestrated by the floor leader who orchestrated its transition game the past three seasons, a senior who has helped the Pirates go 81-9 and emerge as a national contender.
Indeed, for a Whitworth squad ranked 14th in the D3hoops.com preseason Top 25 to remain in the national conversation, it will be senior and returning all-Northwest Conference floor general Wade Gebbers leading the way once again.
“It's critical,” said Logie, the Pirates' second-year head coach. “He understands the culture of our program.
“I think he's a guy that could play in a lot of different programs across the country. He gives us that edge, that chip on his shoulder ... that's a little bit contagious. We hope that the young guys can learn from a guy like him.”
While Gebbers (12.8 points per game, 3.3 assists in 2011-12) will not lead alone — senior forwards Mack Larkin and Zach Payne have also experienced the rigors of March Madness — the three-year starter will help the Pirates move past a Sweet 16 season after which they lost third-team All-West Region center Felix Friedt (16.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 56.4 FG%), explosive swingman Idris Lasisi (16.8 points, 4.9 rebounds) and versatile forward Jack Loofburrow (9.5 points, 4.1 rebounds).
Gebbers grew into his role as floor general after arriving at Whitworth as the Washington State 1A Player of the Year four autumns ago, serving an apprenticeship off the pine as a rookie before ascending into the starting lineup in 2009-10. Since then, the Pirates going to the Elite 8 his sophomore season and to the Sweet 16 last March.
On the court, his intelligence and tenacity have helped the Pirates continue their era of dominance in the NWC by capturing six straight conference tournament crowns, feeding the talented likes of 2010-11 D3hoops.com Player of the Year Mike Taylor before Friedt and Lasisi picked up the scoring slack a season ago.
This season, Gebbers' leadership role goes deeper. In practice, he is getting the six rookies used to Whitworth's expectations and style of play. And on the Pirates' nine-hour bus ride for an exhibition game with Division I Idaho State — they hung tough before bowing, 68-65, Tuesday night — he enjoyed developing the camaraderie with his new teammates.
There are always new faces across the college basketball landscape every preseason, but there are not many places with a player of the pedigree of Whitworth's senior easing the acclimation process.
“It's an adjustment, but it's not too bad,” Gebbers said by phone from the bus. “Every year you deal with new guys. You help them improve. They're helping us improve.
“It's an adjustment, but it's something we're getting used to. We're excited about the new guys along with the guys coming back.”
Although Gebbers struggled from the field at Idaho State, he still saw 39 minutes and contributed four assists and two steals while directing a Whitworth offense that came with a missed three-pointer at the buzzer from forcing overtime. In addition to junior guard Dustin McConnell scoring 15 points, 6-8 junior Taylor Farnsworth (12 points, five rebounds) looked ready to become a dependable force down low after playing 17 games off the bench last year.
However, the most encouraging sign may have come from the acclaimed recruiting class. Freshman George Valle, perhaps the best and most versatile newcomer from the Pirates' haul, poured in 15 points over 33 minutes. And 6-6 forward Zach Aldous looked solid in 16 minutes off the bench.
“I'm excited about this year,” Gebbers said. “I think there's a lot of potential with guys that we have for improvement. But I think we have a solid base with the new guys coming in.”
Once again, Logie scheduled strong at the outset to challenge his squad: After seeing Idaho State, the Pirates will host No. 11 St. Thomas in its season opener Nov. 17, then welcome a Mary Hardin-Baylor team also receiving votes to town six days later. In the NWC, Whitman (also receiving votes) and Lewis and Clark figure as Whitworth's biggest challenges to a seventh straight conference championship.
If the Pirates get there, it will be Gebbers leading the way again, a senior hoping for a championship run after being detoured the past couple of seasons.
“My freshman year we made it to the Sweet 16, (then the) Elite 8, then the Sweet 16 again—to not make it farther than that, I know it's pushing me and it's pushing other guys.
“You never want your season to be cut short like that. It always puts a little extra drive in us to make it to the next level. Our ultimate goal is to make it to the championship.”
Winds of change in the Windy City
When Aaron Roussell left the University of Chicago to become head coach of Division I Bucknell, Carissa Sain Knoche found herself forced to make a decision on the eve of her pending nuptials.
A decision she never thought she would make.
“I was definitely surprised to be completely honest,” Sain Knoche said. “I thought he'd be at Chicago and I thought I'd be his assistant forever.”
Instead, when Roussell departed after a 27-1, Sweet-16 season, Sain Knoche found herself weighing two options days before her wedding day: Follow Roussell to Pennsylvania and remain his top assistant, only on the Division I level, or continue as acting head coach with the program she helped build over the previous four seasons.
An easy decision, it turns out.
“Being the head coach at Chicago fits me more than jumping levels,” Sain Knoche said. “My family and my lifestyle were a big part of that.”
More than the adjustment of moving down the bench — she laughed that she used to be the good cop to Roussell's bad cop, a dynamic at play in programs all over the place — Sain Knoche will oversee a new-look Maroons squad that lost D3hoops.com All-Americans Taylor Simpson (also the Jostens Award winner) and Morgan Herrick. She still talks regularly with Roussell, picking his brain about practice plans and how to roll out offensive and defensive schemes.
Although 11 players return from last year, only then-junior guard Maggie Ely (four starts) cracked Chicago's senior-laded lineup, although 6-2 sophomore Hannah Ballard (6.2 points per game, 3.7 rebounds), 6-2 junior Christiane Murray (1.7 points, 2.1 rebounds), and sophomore guard Morgan Donovan (3.1 points) saw action in all 28 contests.
And although the Maroons might be the first team outside of the D3hoops.com Top 25 also receiving votes based on past reputation, they believe will live up to their advance billing, even if it will come with a more athletic brand of basketball than the rugged post play seen in recent seasons with Herrick and Simpson.
“We're not as big as we were last year, but we're really quick,” Ballard said. “We're hoping to be a fun team to watch. Everyone is really athletic. It's a lot quicker pace.”
Added Sain Knoche: “We're not very big, but we hope to be deep. (We've gone) 10-12 deep in the past. To be good and to be good late and be good in the UAA, I think you have to be deep. I think 10-12 is pretty standard for us.”
After learning from last year's senior class, Ballard and her sophomore classmates have adjusted to leading instead of following. Ely, a transfer from NYU last year who earned first-team All-UAA accolades in 2010-11, also earned praise from Sain Knoche for helping ease her transition from assistant to bench boss.
Now comes the tough part: trying to repeat recent success. Chicago's quest begins Nov. 16 against Benedictine, starting a non-conference slate including tests against No. 5 Illinois Wesleyan and No. 7 UW-Stevens Point before beginning an always arduous UAA schedule that features three ranked teams for starters: No. 9 Washington University, No. 24 Rochester, and No. 22 Emory.
If you ask Ballard, the Maroons are ready.
“We were able to see what we could do (last year),” the sophomore said. “We know that this year we want to get further. That's just the drive right there: being able to learn while experiencing it last year.”
New leadership at Amherst
Much like Chicago, Amherst bid adieu to a six-player senior class that helped the Lord Jeffs hoist a national championship and reach two other Final Fours, leaving head coach GP Gromacki to wearily offer before practice earlier this week that his team is “a work in progress, to be sure.”
However, the great coaches always find a way to balance experience and youth, ensuring that even when a graduating class as celebrated as the Lord Jeffs' was leaves, time marches on with another run through March.
Much as Gromacki did previously with 2009-10 NESCAC Rookie of the Year Marsha Voigt, he introduced 6-2 sophomore forward and D3hoops.com preseason honorable mention All-American Megan Robertson to the college game early last season. Robertson proved to be a quick study, averaging 10.8 points and 7.4 rebounds while starting 10 of 33 games en route to earning NESCAC Rookie of the Year honors.
The lessons learned from First Team All-American Caroline Stedman and the others who enabled Amherst to experience so much success the previous three seasons, not to mention the early playing time she earned, have positioned Robertson well entering her sophomore season.
During practice, Robertson is now taking the place of Stedman and Lem Atanga McCormick, leading by example and through encouragement. Her leadership is a work in progress, much like the Lord Jeffs, but has clearly encouraged Gromacki.
“It's new to her, but hopefully she learns something from the seniors last year,” Gromacki said. “And she obviously has plenty of playing experience, and that's where it starts. People are already looking to her because she was so successful as a freshman last year.”
Robertson and Voigt will be two of the leaders of a new-look Lord Jeffs squad that just started practice Nov. 1, per NESCAC rules. There will be four rookies on the roster, although Gromacki refused to give names, only offering that the 2012-13 roster will be on Amherst's website later this week and that, “We're definitely excited about our new group.”
Robertson, for one, is excited about her new role, the rookies, and the season ahead.
“We're definitely looking to have a good season like last year,” said the sophomore, whose squad lost to George Fox in the Final Four. “We do have a lot of new players coming in, but we feel it's the same goal to get back to Hope and do what we can there. It may be a bit of a more difficult journey, at least at the beginning getting these new players acclimated, but we still have the same goals.”