When Washington State defender Mykiaa Minniss’ overtime kick zipped into South Carolina’s goal last week, it did more than send the Cougars to their first College Cup.
It cemented a WSU athletic program’s deepest postseason run in modern history.
“It’s crazy that we’re all like making a standard. Cougs versus Everybody,” Minniss said. “I think it’s cool we get to witness it and have everybody just follow us.”
The Cougars (16-6-1), who face top-seeded North Carolina (23-1-1) in the College Cup national semifinals Friday in San Jose, California, powered through their portion of the 64-team bracket in underdog fashion.
WSU finished sixth in the soccer-rich Pac-12 Conference before earning its eighth NCAA Tournament berth in nine years. The unranked Cougars played host to No. 14 Memphis in the first round.
After the Cougars clipped the American Athletic Conference champion Tigers 1-0 in Pullman, they knocked out the region’s top-seeded squad, third-ranked Virginia, 3-2 on the Cavaliers’ home pitch. Two days later, WSU blanked West Virginia 3-0 to advance to its first Elite Eight in program history.
The region’s No. 2 seed, fifth-ranked South Carolina, was also eliminated by the Cougars on the Gamecocks’ home field.
Led by the program’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer in senior Morgan Weaver, sixth-year senior goalie Ella Dederick and a senior graduate transfer from national power Stanford – Bozeman native Averie Collins – WSU returns to a neutral site this weekend.
The Cougars are tasked with stopping the 21-time national champion Tar Heels, who reached the 2018 national title game.
A pair of Pac-12 rivals square off in the other semifinal – UCLA and Stanford, programs with a combined six national titles and 19 Final Four appearances.
WSU is new to the party.
“We’re confident, hungry and have a ton of swagger right now, which is a good thing,” WSU coach Todd Shulenberger said. “Whether we’re the underdog or not, this group is hungry and extremely grateful to have this opportunity.”
Few WSU sports teams have made substantial noise in NCAA Tournament appearances.
Here’s a look at the few of the best postseason runs in Cougars history:
Elite Eight volleyball
WSU volleyball coach Jen Greeny has recently helped the Cougars to four straight NCAA Tournaments. As a player, she reached the program’s first Elite Eight in 1996.
Led by the first-team All-American and Pac-10 Player of the Year Sarah Silvernail, the 11th-seeded Cougars (27-6) knocked off Kansas State and Loyola Marymount before falling to eventual national champion Stanford.
The Cougars returned to the Elite Eight in 2002. Led by standout LaToya Harris, No. 9 seed WSU (24-8) downed Oral Roberts, Kansas State and Northern Iowa before being eliminated by Florida.
Sweet 16 basketball
Before Virginia coach Tony Bennett led the Cavaliers to a 2019 national men’s basketball title, he swiftly helped the Cougars reach new heights during the 2007-2008 season.
In Bennett’s second year as the head coach in Pullman, WSU (26-9) placed third in Pac-10. Defensive-minded guards Derrick Low (14 ppg), Kyle Weaver (12 ppg) and post Aron Baynes (10.4 ppg) reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Fourth-seeded WSU knocked off No. 13 seed Winthrop (71-40) and No. 5 Notre Dame (61-41) before falling to national power and top-seeded North Carolina (68-47).
The Cougars haven’t returned to the NCAA Tournament since.
Rose Bowl appearances
Both of Washington State’s conference titles in the modern football era equated to Rose Bowl berths and top-10 national rankings.
Behind star quarterback and eventual No. 2 overall NFL draft pick Ryan Leaf, the Cougars went 10-1 during the 1997 regular season, which ended with a 41-35 Apple Cup win at Washington.
The Cougars fell 21-16 to Michigan in Pasadena, California, and the Wolverines were crowned co-national champions.
Five years later, head coach Mike Price again led WSU to a Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl appearance. The 2002 Cougars went 10-2 in the regular season, falling to eventual national champion Ohio State 25-7 in Week 3.
Led by standout quarterback Jason Gesser, WSU was handled 34-14 by Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.
Back in the day
Washington State’s lone national championship was won by men’s indoor track and field in 1977.
The WSU men’s basketball team reached the national title game of the 1941 NCAA Tournament, when the tournament field was eight.
Behind 6-foot-7 forward Paul Lindeman – his 10.2 points-per-game average was considered high scoring that era – the Cougars downed Creighton (48-39) and Arkansas (64-53) before falling to Wisconsin (39-34) in Kansas City, Missouri.
In 1950, the WSU baseball team reached the NCAA national title round, beating Tufts (now Division III), Alabama and Rutgers before losing to Texas in the championship.
The Cougars were guided by eventual four-time MLB All-Star pitcher Gene Conley, a Richland native who also played basketball for the Boston Celtics.
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