WWC Wolves Make Adventist Sports History
Underdogs can be underestimated. Last-minute contenders can be miscalculated. And small schools can produce sports teams that everyone loves but from whom nobody expects major success.
This year, the Walla Walla College men's basketball team paved a path from rural Walla Walla, Wash., to the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) tournament in Frankfort, Ky.—an unexpected journey that led to a fourth-place title.
The team, led by head coach Jim Hill and assistant coach Rhett Unger, didn't expect to attend the competition since there weren't enough teams in their region to get a bid to go. "We felt like the Lord opened the door, and we think He got us the money [to go] and gave us the ability," Tim Windemuth, WWC health and physical education professor, remarked. That ability helped the team to be the first from WWC to place in the tournament.
The Wolves' first game was against top-seed Nyak College from New York. The team came back from a 15-point deficit to take the win by two points. "Number eight has never [beaten] the number one. And then we did," Windemuth explained. Ryan White, who was named Second Team All-American and All-Tournament, scored 15 points.
Team captain Clinton Bartlett, a senior mathematics major, said, "We took the tournament by storm. They didn't expect us to win a game, then we became the favorites of the tournament."
"We have a great group of kids," Windemuth said of the Wolves' roster. "It was the first time in the history of the tournament that the eighth seed beat the number one seed. … People didn't even know who WWC was, then everyone knew after that first game, and they were cheering for us the rest of the weekend."
Game two resulted in an overtime loss for WWC against a team that went on to win the tournament. Jeremy Claridge, junior physical education major, scored 25 points in that game and was named First Team All-American. "I think the most exciting part about that is that it's more indicative of the team's success than it is about one player's accomplishment," he said. "It kind of showed what we did as a team if they'd recognize even one of our players."
Besides playing in the tournament, all the teams in Frankfort went to nearby schools to put on basketball clinics, share testimonies and pray with the kids. "They were excited that someone would talk to them and take an interest in them," Claridge said.
Once the team took their unpredicted early win, the tournament organizers made sure WWC's game times wouldn't have them playing on the Sabbath.
"We cannot say enough for the NCCAA and the coaching staff that were there and the people who ran the tournament," Windemuth said. "They let us honor our Sabbath."
The Wolves' success brought with it plenty of reasons to give thanks. "We're the first Adventist college to go to a national tournament and win," Windemuth said. "And now, in Division I, we're the fourth-place team in the nation. We give all the glory to the Lord."