Warren Wilson Owls come up short of championship

Fred McCormick

The Warren Wilson College Owls were down by 11 points going into the second half on March 5, in the semi-final round of the national championship tournament against Berkeley College - N.Y. Berkeley College was last year’s USCAA D-II champions.

With leading scorer and second-team All-American Justin Gonyea missing much of the first half in foul trouble, a second-half comeback for the Owls seemed possible. But just a couple of minutes into the half, Gonyea got his third and fourth foul - within seconds of one another - and Warren Wilson never recovered.

With an 82-66 loss to the Knights, the Owls came up short in their bid to bring home the school’s second national championship (the Knights won their second consecutive title). Warren Wilson head coach Anthony Barringer called the foul trouble that limited Gonyea to 15 minutes of court time a “game changer.”

“Justin draws so much attention when he’s on the court because you have to respect what he’s capable of,” Barringer said. “When he was on the floor early in the game, before he picked up that second foul, their (Berkeley) focus was to keep him from scoring. And he was still finding ways to create for teammates. Once he was off the floor, we didn’t have anyone that we could just tell to go get us buckets.”

The loss came the day after the Owls advanced to the semi-final round with a win against University of Maine-Machias. The performance marked only the second time that Warren Wilson has advanced to the semi-final round. The Owls last made it to the round of four teams in 2013 when they won the tournament.

The loss to Berkeley was the final game in a Warren Wilson uniform for the team’s five seniors, four of which who played alongside Barringer in 2013. The young coach had high praise for the group following the tournament.

“This is one of the most special groups I’ve seen come through Warren Wilson,” he said. “They are, in my opinion, the best senior class this school has ever seen.”

The Owls have nine players returning next season. Barringer believes the team can improve on a strong 2016 campaign, in which the team scored more than 100 points nine times and earned a number 4 seed in the USCAA D-II national championship tournament for the first time in school history.

“We’ll be in good shape next year because those guys returning know what I expect now,” Barringer said. “And now they know what it feels like to get that close and not finish the job.”

Barringer’s intense, high-energy defensive approach as the team’s interim coach yielded 18 wins for the Owls this season and led to a school record 121-point offensive outburst against Piedmont International University in late January. He now hopes to secure the job permanently.

“It is really important for me to come back and see this through,” he said. “I’ve made no secret about the fact that I want to be at Warren Wilson. I live 1.3 miles from the parking spot in front of my door. And it’s important for me to come back and see this class through. But at the end of the day, it’s up to Warren Wilson and what they choose to do.”