Continuing with my analysis of the 2018 schedules for some of the top West Region teams.
For this post I turn my attention to Whitworth out of the Northwest Conference. I have not been shy in the past about my criticism of the NWC teams when it comes to their scheduling. Due to their conference schedule, which plays matches from the third weekend of the season until the end, the NWC teams only have two weekends to stretch their legs. I’d really like to see the NWC combine conference matches into a shared weekend (like is done by the ASC and SCAC) so that it would at least free up one more weekend so they could travel to out-of-state tournaments. I’ve been told the NWC is looking into some scheduling changes that may take effect in 2019. Until then, the Whitworth schedule follows the traditional NWC path.
The Oregon Trail Classic hosted by a number of NWC teams starts us off the first weekend of the season. Whitworth has drawn UC Santa Cruz, Illinois Tech, Elmhurst and New Rochelle (as always, the best school name in modern day history). Not a great group for Whitworth to get measured against. Santa Cruz is coming off a coaching change and was not that strong last year. Illinois Tech joins the NACC this year (they are a DIII provisional member) but returns most of their squad. Still, they should struggle against Whitworth. Elmhurst is coming off a down year and lose the bulk of their starters from last year so although they may have name recognition value, they may not have much else this season. New Rochelle may end up being the toughest match of the four as they are led by one of my favorite non-West Region players in Cristal Liciaga. I had the pleasure of watching her set and play right side against Colorado College in the NCAA Tournament and she really held her own.
The problem with not drawing any national powers that first weekend means the second weekend takes on a ton of importance. This is compounded by the fact that Whitworth will not leave the northwest after this weekend unless they qualify for the NCAA Tournament (due to their NWC schedule). Now for the second weekend, Whitworth is traveling to Emory for their tournament and they draw some really good teams. They will start the weekend off by playing SAA champions Berry followed up by Transylvania, OAC champions Otterbein and host team Emory. Emory, of course, is a perennially power and will most likely be one of my favorites for the NCAA championship this year. So, a great slate of matches but based on the Whitworth schedule they almost have to win 3 of these to have a chance at an NCAA bid in the event they can’t win the NWC.
Starting with the third weekend, it’s all about the NWC and winning the conference. Pac Lutheran will be really good and Pacific should also be strong but finishing second to either of these teams while suffering a poor second weekend probably means the end of their season (and we haven’t even started it, yet). I know I’m harping on the NWC scheduling too much, but based on Pac Lutheran’s play in the NCAA tournament they showed the NWC can be a really strong conference. With the West Region only getting 7 teams into the tournament two of the last three years, we have a spot (and a need) to get that 8th team in consistently year after year (heck, let’s go for nine!). The NWC can supply that team, but they have to provide the ammunition to the West RAC and the NCAA selection committee to make that happen.
Now, as I descend my soapbox I cup my hands turn to Whitworth and as any faithful Southwestern fan knows how to cheer, I yell “Go Pirates!”