Friday, November 9, 2012

Whitworth’s Pirates best known for defense; kick off postseason Saturday

Final words on a chilly night beneath the temporary lights at Whitworth | Photos: Gerald Barnhart
When it comes to the Pirates of Whitworth, the story is more of a case of defending the ship instead of plundering the opposition or living carefree like Captain Jack Sparrow. These buccaneers, who mark their return to the NCAA Division III tournament at 3:00 pm PT Saturday in San Antonio (Trinity University) against Mississippi College, have posted one of the nation’s best defensive performances this year via a crew of six that have stifled one opponent after another.

“I think there is a team commitment to defending and working hard as a group, and staying organized and fighting as a group,” head coach Sean Bushey beneath the temporary lights at their final training session in Spokane on a cold Wednesday evening.

“The back line certainly blunts its share of attacks and then Kyle Novak has it covered when they do breach it. It’s been pretty neat to see. It’s a cohesive unit and it’s done well throughout the course of the season.”   

Done well is an understatement. Heading into their tournament opener, the Pirates defense is among the nation’s best statistically, ranking second across Division III in both shutout percentage (.72) and goals against average (.29) behind Amherst (.88 & .12), which is second in the NSCAA rankings at 15-0-2 behind Messiah (19-0-1). Whitworth (13-2-3) is tied for 13 in the rankings.

Kyle Novak
The Whitworth defensive wall has helped senior goalkeeper Kyle Novak, of Eugene, Ore., also finish among the nation’s best statistically, though having little work to do in many of their matches this season. The netminder, who played 90 percent of the team’s time on the field this season, ranks fourth in D3 with a .292 GAA for the year and is tied for 14th in save percentage (.872). 

“Novak is a great Division 3 story actually because he studied abroad last year in China,” said Bushey. “So he was off the fall semester, but he comes back for his senior year to finish out his eligibility and finish up a few credits, and he’s off to grad school. He excels as a student and as an athlete. It’s neat to see.”


Andrew Flint – Boulder, CO - Junior

Bushey:  “Andrew has bided his time and worked hard for the first two years and now is taking this opportunity, and has just been very solid, very consistent throughout the season.”

Balin Larson – Seattle, WA - Junior

Bushey: “Balin transferred in from Bellevue College. Strong kid – both he and Flint are strong in the air, which is important in college soccer the way the ball comes in you have to be able to defend that. They’ve been very sure, just like having a sure handed receiver or something of that nature – you just know when that ball’s coming in, we are gonna get it out.

Colin Shockman – Spokane, WA - Sophomore

Bushey: “Colin is just a young guy still, he’s just a sophomore. He played a lot of minutes as a freshman and it’s carried through. He’s good, strong in the air. He’s just a strong kid physically and he’s capable with the ball – I think that’s what’s also important is that our back line; they are comfortable with the ball so that we are able to attack and deny some of the opponents attacking opportunities because we are good enough with the ball and have it more often .”

Spencer Wolfe – Bellingham, WA - Freshman

Bushey: “Spencer is a freshman. Will Wren got injured halfway through the season and he had to step in. And he really stepped in right where Wren left off. Not easy to do, especially as a freshman and the demands that we place, and the expectations and playing at the top of the conference. It’s just been outstanding, it’s a neat group.”

Will Wren – Evans, GA – Junior

Bushey: "His first three goals in three years at Whitworth so I am glad he is picked this time to start scoring, so it is great,” he said earlier in the season about Wren's scoring exploits. “If you can get guys from out of the back to score goals, then it allows for a lot more options in your attack, creativity, so it was big time."

Bushey credits building a unit from such a wide-ranging background to the recruiting power of the school and the program’s sustained success.

“The school, Whitworth is attractive, I think, as an institution,” he said. “The soccer program has done well. It keeps itself on the national stage. I think from the second poll on we’ve been nationally ranked, and we’ve been so every year since 2004, which not many programs can say. They are just soccer players that are students that want a good experience.

“Balin, we recruited as a freshman. He went to junior college first. Wolfe we saw playing club soccer – he and David Starkovich. And others, they showed an interest first and the recruiting process started. Thankfully they ended up here.”


Whitworth earned its seventh Northwest Conference title in the last nine years, and eighth overall, under head coach Sean Bushey (17th year).  Mississippi College (12-5-2), making their it's first-ever trip to the NCAA Division III tournament, finished first in American Southwest Conference regular season for the first time and reached the national tournament after a nail-biting conference tourney in which the Choctaws tied Hardin-Simmons, 2-2, in the semifinal before advancing via penalties, 4-3. They then had a repeat performance in a 1-1 draw with Texas-Dallas before claiming, 5-4 via the tiebreaker, the conference crown. 

While the Choctaws are newcomers to the event, both Trinity (18-0-3) and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (13-6-2), the teams in Saturday's other first round match up, have been long-time fixtures in the NCAA tournament like Whitworth.  Sunday's second round match will start at 6:00 pm (CST).

Live Stream Available [+]
While the two programs have never met, the two coaches are no strangers to one another, both Bushey and Kevin Johns spending a year together at Belhaven, a longtime NAIA powerhouse.

“Back in the day, I was a senior, he was a freshman at Belhaven so we were teammates and go way back. It was pretty cool,” said Bushey of learning he would face an old friend. “We’ve never played against each other so now will be the first – soccer world is pretty small, pretty cool.

With 20 years having passed since the two played together, there was no need to actually speak with one another this week as technological advancement allowed other communication.

“We exchanged texts when the draw came out, and during the week. We’ll see each other this weekend.”

Whitworth Playoff History [+] 

The Pirates clash and charge forward in their final Spokane training session Wednesday