In the third part of my series looking back on just a few of the many outstanding performances of Washington State University athletic teams in this past decade, three different sports will be highlighted.
Though there has not been ranking in my presentation of Cougar highlights, you may want to read the first two installments of this series before diving into No. 3.
The final three teams highlighted compete in front of small, medium, and large crowds. That said, the level of competition for each is comparable.
As a member of the strongest collegiate athletic conference in the nation, the Pac-10, Washington State battles only the best on the field of play. A common trait for all Cougs, on or off the field of play, is the drive to achieve. That component is a common thread with the teams selected to have my spotlight shine on them.
2009 WSU Women’s Volleyball
A tradition of winning volleyball was resurrected in 2009 under the leadership of second-year coach Andrew Palileo. WSU earned an invitation to return to the NCAA Championship tournament for the first time since 2002.
Combining Cougar Pride emanating from outstanding student athletes with excellent coaching makes for a winning combination. The addition of Coach Palileo to the WSU women’s volleyball program sets the stage for exciting play for years to come.
Witness to such praise can be supported by Coach Palileo being honored as Pac-10 Coach of the Year in just his second season at Washington State.
Facing No. 20 Northern Iowa (30-2) in the opening round of the NCAA tourney, WSU (18-12) had their work cut out for them. Outside Pullman, the expectation was for an easy victory by Northern Iowa, who entered the NCAA tourney with a 28-match winning streak. They also brought plenty of experience playing high-level volleyball considering this was their fourth consecutive trip to postseason play.
A spirited effort by the Cougs wasn’t enough to stop the Northern Iowa juggernaut. They fell by scores of 26-24, 25-21, and 25-20.
The future of Cougar volleyball heading into the next decade? You be the judge.
Washington State was led in the NCAA tournament by freshman Rachel Todorovich with a career-high 15 kills, a .556 hitting percentage (0 errors on 27 attacks), and 10 digs. Sophomore Meagan Ganzer added 13 kills. Junior Brittany Tillman had five kills and led the match with five blocks.
Coach Palileo has more talent on the way. Incoming recruit Marcelina Glab, a 6'2" middle hitter from Watertown, S.D., was named the Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year for the state of South Dakota and was selected to the 2009 AVCA Under Armour All-America team as an honorable mention.
WSU women's volleyball heads into the next decade with tremendous promise.
2009 WSU Baseball
For decades, coach Bobo Brayton led the Washington State baseball team to 21 conference titles and a pair of trips to the College World Series. The Cougs have struggled on the diamond since his retirement in 1994.
Current coach Donnie Marbut and the 2009 Cougar baseball squad looked like the teams of those vintage Brayton years.
WSU finished with a stellar record of 32-25, second-place finish in the Pac-10, and an invitation to compete in the College World Series. Though Washington State didn’t advance beyond the Super Regional in Norman, Okla., the team played solid baseball and look poised to enter the new decade as a perennial college baseball power once again.
Stating Cougar baseball will be a perennial power going into the next decade isn't a hyperbole. No sir.
Coach Marbut has a nucleus of outstanding players returning for another run at the College World Series. They include seniors Matt Fanelli and Greg Lagreid, juniors Shea Vucinich, Cody Bartlett , Jay Ponciano, and Garry Kuykendall along with sophomore outfielders Patrick Claussen and Derek Jones.
And pitching? Coach Marbut has 13 hopefuls contending for just nine regular spots for starters and relievers.
2003 Holiday Bowl
In Coach Bill Doba's first season as the head football coach at Washington State, he led his team to an impressive record of 9-3 and an invitation to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Calif.
The opponent for WSU would be the powerhouse team of Texas led by outstanding running back Cedric Benson who would go on to win the Doak Walker Award as college football’s outstanding running back in 2004.
The Cougs were prohibitive underdogs, a familiar position for Washington State football. Strengthening that prediction was the fact that Matt Kagel, WSU’s senior quarterback, was limping into the game on just one good leg.
To the surprise of 61,102 fans in the stadium on a chilly San Diego evening, Washington State was giving the Longhorns all they could handle in the first half. Texas held a 10-7 lead at intermission. Coach Doba took his team into the locker room in a position to earn their 10th win of the season.
The players who stepped up big for the Cougs in the second half of the Holiday Bowl were the heart and soul of the 2002-2003 Cougar football team. Punter Kyle Basler boomed kicks the entire game to give WSU important yardage in the battle for field position. He would be named the Defensive Player of the Game.
Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP Sammy Moore hauled in a Kegel bomb for a 54-yard touchdown that gave WSU the lead in the third quarter—which they didn’t surrender for the rest of the game.
Jonathan Smith enjoyed a tremendous game. When he scored on a 12-yard dash up the middle in the third quarter, the Cougs went up 20-10 and were playing with tremendous confidence.
Cornerback Jason David sealed the deal when he recovered a Longhorn fumble and scampered 18 yards for a touchdown to put the Cougs up 26-13.
When the final gun signaled the end of the game, WSU sent Bevo and the Texas Longhorns back home hanging their heads.
Final score WSU 28–UT 20
Originally published in Lew Wright's WSU Sports column Examiner.com