Helen Higgs, the winningest and longest serving women’s basketball coach in Whitworth history, has elected to step down from that position following her 24th season with the Pirates.
Higgs concludes her coaching career at Whitworth with a record of 361-253. She ranked 48th in total victories among active NCAA Division III coaches heading into this season.
“After every season I evaluate what is best for this program in every aspect, and my own sense of passion and calling,” Higgs said. “This year felt like my sense of vocation and passion are no longer here. If I’m not all in, my team won’t be all in.”
Higgs led the Pirate women to the NAIA Division II national tournament in 1995, her first season as head coach. She guided the Bucs to three appearances in the NCAA Division III tournament: 1999, 2013 and 2014. Whitworth won two regular season NWC titles under Higgs (1995 and 2003) and three NWC tournaments (1995, 2013 and 2014). She is a three-time NWC Coach of the Year (1995, 2002, 2003).
“We are extremely grateful for Helen’s passion and commitment to Pirates basketball over these many years and we are thankful for her legacy of helping shape not only basketball players but the young women under her leadership,” said Tim Demant, Whitworth’s Director of Athletics. “Her desire to see her players compete hard and grow in character has been unwavering.”
The Pirates finished 10-15 overall and 5-11 in the Northwest Conference in 2017-18.
The 2013-14 season was one of milestones. Higgs became the first Northwest Conference women’s basketball coach to reach 300 wins with an 89-56 win at Pacific Lutheran on February 8, 2014. The Whitworth women earned the program’s first win over a top-ranked opponent as the Pirates defeated No. 1 Whitman, 68-65, to repeat as the NWC Tournament champions. One week later, Whitworth claimed its first NCAA Tournament victory with a 71-51 win over George Fox in the opening round.
Three Pirates have earned NWC Player of the Year recognition under Higgs’ coaching. Annette Sweeney won the award in 1995 and Erica Ewart was the winner in 2002. Tiffany Speer claimed the honor in back-to-back seasons in 2003 and 2004. In 2018 Camy Aguinaldo was selected as the NWC Freshman of the Year.
Higgs put together the two best stretches of records in school history. Whitworth went 124-53 (.700) in the seven seasons from 1999-2005 and the Pirates were 78-31 (.715) over four years from 2013-2016.
In addition to coaching, Higgs is a Whitworth faculty member who earned her Ph.D. from Gonzaga University in 2012 in Leadership Studies. She has been an active member of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association who has spoken at the WBCA convention and at numerous camps and clinics. She has been active in Division III, serving on the regional ranking committee for three years (2014-16) and she has been a voter in the D3hoops.com top-25 poll for the last two seasons.
As a player at the University of Oregon, Higgs started for three years and led the team to a top-ten national ranking. Higgs continued her playing career in Europe, where she helped lead Turnverein Bensburg to an undefeated season and a place in the German Cup finals. Higgs began her coaching career while completing her playing career in Germany. She coached the second-division women’s team and the under-18 team in Turnverein Bensburg,
After leaving Germany, Higgs was an assistant coach at Gonzaga University for two years. While she was there, the Bulldogs won the school’s first WCC championship in women’s basketball.
In 1990, Higgs moved from Gonzaga to perennial national power University of Utah. While Higgs was an assistant with the Utes, Utah was selected to play in the NCAA Tournament twice and played for the WAC championship four times.
Higgs is still waiting to see what comes next.
“While I am generally a planner and like to have some control, I am still waiting to see where my next sense of passion and avocation lies,” she said. “But I know that God has a plan for me.”
Demant says that Whitworth will begin a national search for its next women’s basketball coach immediately.
“Whitworth is committed to continuing the standard of excellence that our basketball programs have already established,” he said.
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