Warren Wilson College’s men’s basketball team this week headed back to a championship tournament that it won just three years ago. The Owls entered as a number 4 seed.
They hope for a repeat performance as national championships. But otherwise, this has been a season of firsts. It’s Anthony Barringer’s first season as head coach. It’s also the first time Warren Wilson beat Swannanoa Valley rivals Montreat College twice in the same season.
Warren Wilson entered the tournament as a number 5 seed in 2013, the year Barringer (then the team’s starting point guard) and four seniors on the Owls’ current roster beat Penn State-Fayette to win Warren Wilson’s first national championship. Achieving the number 4 seed at this year’s USCAA D-II National Championships in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, is the product of the “hard work” put in by the players, Barringer said.
“I put these guys through it, and anybody that’s been to any of our practices knows and understands how hard these guys work,” he said. “A number 4 seed is big in that regard. But in our mind we feel like we’re the deepest, most talented team in this tournament.”
Warren Wilson was set to arrive in Pennsylvania on March 1 for the 10-team tournament, a tournament that they’ve appeared in the last four seasons.
“From the coaches’ side, we told them that we’re super-proud of them and happy with how they’ve played this year,” Barringer said. “But from the players’ side, it’s business as usual.”
What the Owls usually do is win basketball games. Over the course of the last four seasons, the team compiled a 69-50 record. This season’s 17-13 record is not as good as the 19-10 mark that the team posted their championship year. But Barringer believes that a tougher schedule this season has his team prepared for this year’s tournament.
“We’ve been battle-tested since day one,” he said. “We have been able to prove to ourselves all season long that we’re capable of playing against anybody.”
The Owls are scheduled to take on the fifth-seeded University of Maine-Machias Clippers at 3:15 p.m. on Thursday, March 3.
“They have two guards that are averaging over 20 points per game,” Barringer said. “They were ranked 12th going into their conference tournament, and they won three straight to win their conference championship, which is how they jumped up to that number 5 seed.”
If the Owls secure a victory against the Clippers, as Barringer expects, the road to another national championship could go through Berkeley College and Central Penn College, the respective first and second seeds in the tournament.
“This entire year has been our preparation,” Barringer said. “Those teams are good, but the reality is that we’ve played teams all season that are bigger and better. We played (NCAA D-II team) Queens University of Charlotte when they were the number 10 team in the country, and we played them close. We were up 17 at one point against Newberry College who was top-10 in their region. We’re used to playing higher levels of competition.”
Teams in the tournament will likely prepare for the offensive output of Warren Wilson’s leading scorer Justin Gonyea, who is averaging 16.2 points per game. But they will also have to account for the depth of a team that relies on contributions from everyone and has 10 players averaging at least 5 points each contest.
Perhaps an even tougher task for opponents of the Owls will be maintaining possession against a quick and athletic defense that averages more than 11 steals per game.
“We want to continue to disrupt teams on defense,” Barringer said. “It’s been our emphasis all season, and now is the time that we really have to lock in.”