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Sports >  NCAA

20 for 20: Ranking Washington State’s top 20 athletes since 2000

UPDATED: Sun., July 5, 2020

Creating a list of the top athletes in Washington State history is a decidedly challenging task that demands months of research and grunt work, and one that may be futile because it requires one to compare Cougars from different eras, and in some cases the eras themselves.

So, even in quarantine, we passed on that project and went for something more manageable: the top 20 WSU athletes since 2000.

Granted, that wasn’t a breeze either.

To qualify, athletes must have played at least half, or more, of their career during the 2000s, which excludes someone like Lamont Thompson, who was a senior in 2001 but played three of his four seasons from 1997-99.

Additionally, postcollegiate resumes weren’t weighed when forming the list – only what the athlete achieved in Pullman.

Aron Baynes, for example, may be the second-most accomplished NBA player to wear a crimson jersey, but his WSU bio probably doesn’t stack up to that of Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low.

After combing through dozens of rosters and media guides, and consulting a team of Spokesman-Review writers that has covered the Cougars, here’s our take on WSU’s top 20 athletes since 2020, with 10 honorable mention selections.

1. Luke Falk, football (2014-17): It would’ve been hard for anyone, even Falk himself, to script the record-setting career that played out for the former walk-on from Logan, Utah. After taking over for Connor Halliday as a redshirt freshman, Falk threw for 471 yards and five touchdowns in his first career start at Oregon State, and those numbers became routine over the next three seasons as he set school and Pac-12 records for passing yards (14,486), total offense (14,086), passing touchdowns (119), pass completions (357), pass attempts (534) and total plays (2,306). More notably, Falk left WSU with the school record for total wins (27) and had more fourth-quarter comebacks (seven) than any other quarterback to wear crimson and gray.

Washington State guard Klay Thompson (1) drives between Southern defenders Madut Bol, left, Blake Sanford, center, and Fredrick Coleman during the first half on an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010, at Beasley Coliseum, in Pullman, Wash.  (Associated Press)
Washington State guard Klay Thompson (1) drives between Southern defenders Madut Bol, left, Blake Sanford, center, and Fredrick Coleman during the first half on an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010, at Beasley Coliseum, in Pullman, Wash. (Associated Press)

2. Klay Thompson, men’s basketball (2008-11): As a three-time world champion and five-time All-Star who’s considered one of the top 3-point shooters to step on an NBA court, Thompson’s achievements as an NBA player have dwarfed those from his college career. But his accolades at WSU didn’t go unnoticed and he’s now one of just two basketball players at the school to have his jersey retired, joining Steve Puidokas. Thompson was the fastest Cougar to reach 1,000 points, getting there midway through his sophomore season, and led the Pac-10 in scoring as a junior at 21.6 points per game before declaring for the NBA draft.

Washington State forward Morgan Weaver (6) attempts a shot on goal through a trio of North Carolina defenders during the first half a 2019 NCAA Women’s College Cup semifinal game on Friday evening at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California.  (Pete Caster/For The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State forward Morgan Weaver (6) attempts a shot on goal through a trio of North Carolina defenders during the first half a 2019 NCAA Women’s College Cup semifinal game on Friday evening at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California. (Pete Caster/For The Spokesman-Review)

3. Morgan Weaver, soccer (2016-19): Spearheading a run to the College Cup – soccer’s version of the Final Four – may be the most outstanding line on Weaver’s college résumé, but it certainly isn’t the only one. The University Place native accounted for four goals and one assist as WSU made one shocking statement after another in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, upsetting Memphis, Virginia, West Virginia and South Carolina to set up a national semifinal with powerhouse North Carolina, where the Cougars lost 2-1. With elite speed and a nose for the net, Weaver, the second All-American in school history, finished her career with 43 goals (second), 98 points (second), six postseason goals (first), nine multigoal games (second), 363 shots (first), 13 winning goals (third), 85 matches played (second) and 85 matches started (second).

WSU quarterback Jason Gesser, rose in mouth, basks in the glow of beating UCLA and clinching a spot in the Rose Bowl.  (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)
WSU quarterback Jason Gesser, rose in mouth, basks in the glow of beating UCLA and clinching a spot in the Rose Bowl. (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)

4. Jason Gesser, football (1999-2002): The precious career wins record Falk broke in 2017 was once held by Gesser, one of just two quarterbacks in the modern era to carry the Cougars to a Rose Bowl. Gesser, a three-year captain, was the only QB in school history to lead WSU to consecutive 10-win seasons and shared Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year honors with USC’s Carson Palmer in 2002, while finishing seventh in Heisman Trophy voting. Many of Gesser’s individual records have since been broken by Alex Brink and Leach-era QBs, but he set school marks for pass attempts (1,118), completions (611), passing yards (8,830) and passing touchdowns (70) and career starts (34).

5. Jeshua Anderson, track and field (2007-11): Now an assistant sprint/hurdlers coach at Washington, Cougar fans may not approve of the colors Anderson wears these days, but he was a crimson blur on the track and football field for five years before representing the United States at the 2015 Pan -American Games. Before turning his full attention to track, Anderson caught 45 passes for 667 yards and four touchdowns as an outside receiver for Bill Doba and Paul Wulff in 2007 and ’08. On the track, he achieved a rare three-peat as NCAA champion in the 400-meter hurdles (2008, 2009, 2011) and won the event at the Pac-12 Championships on four occasions. The California native was also a five-time All-American.

Kyle Weaver of WSU is hugged by assistant coach Ron Sanchez after defeating Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 22, 2008, in Denver.  (The Spokesman-Review)
Kyle Weaver of WSU is hugged by assistant coach Ron Sanchez after defeating Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 22, 2008, in Denver. (The Spokesman-Review)

6. Kyle Weaver, men’s basketball (2004-08): Defensive impact may not be as easy to measure as offensive impact, but it’s easy to make the case for Weaver being the top defender in school history, considering he ranks third all time in steals (188) and seventh in blocks (93). Weaver did it on both ends of the floor and is believed to be the first player in Pac-10/12 history with at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 450 assists, 175 steals and 75 blocked shots in a career. The Cougars went 52-17 in Weaver’s final two season, including three NCAA Tournament wins, and the All-Pac-10 guard became WSU’s first NBA draft pick in more than a decade when he was taken in the second round by the Charlotte Bobcats.

7. Derrick Low, men’s basketball (2004-08): Thirty-two more minutes and the versatile guard would’ve overtaken Isaac Fontaine as WSU’s career leader in minutes played. Still, Low’s name is scattered throughout WSU’s record book and his imprint on the program during its most successful era reaches far beyond that. The Honolulu native played in 112 career games, and a handful of the most meaningful in school history, leading the Cougars to the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 and one-upping that a year later, when WSU beat Notre Dame to set up a Sweet 16 game against No. 1 North Carolina. Low is second all time in minutes (3,706) and 3-point attempts (583), fourth in 3-pointers made (220), sixth in free-throw percentage (.800) and eighth in steals (145).

8. Rien Long, football (2000-02): Not only is Long the only Outland Trophy recipient in school history, but he’s one of only three Pac-10/12 players since 1998 to win the award given to college football’s top interior lineman and one of only seven players from the conference to win it since the Outland began being distributed in 1946. As a junior in 2002, Long was a force on WSU’s defensive line, totaling 21½ tackles for loss, 13 sacks and three pass deflections. The daunting defensive tackle from Anacortes, Washington, supplemented his Outland Trophy with consensus All-American honors before being taken in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans.

9. Ellannee Richardson, track and field (1998-2003): Though she came up short of winning an NCAA title, Richardson was still one of the school’s most accomplished – and toughest – female athletes of all time. Like her teammate Whitney Evans, Richards was a standout heptathlete, claiming All-American honors four times in the event. While she was in school, Richardson contributed to WSU records in the 400 relay and the 1,600 relay and set individual records in the heptathlon, 100 hurdles and indoor 400 dash. Richardson was the Pac-10’s heptathlon champ from 2001-03 and was runner-up at the NCAA Championships in 2002 and 2003.

Former WSU quarterback Gardner Minshew smiles as he fields questions from the media during an appearance before the start of  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Former WSU quarterback Gardner Minshew smiles as he fields questions from the media during an appearance before the start of (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

10. Gardner Minshew, football (2018): Mike Leach’s famous recruiting pitch brought the Brandon, Mississippi, native to Pullman in August 2018, after stops at Troy, Northwest Mississippi and East Carolina. Minshew lifted the Cougars to one of the most successful seasons in school history, capturing a program-record 11 wins while setting a slew of school and conference passing records. Next to Russell Wilson, who led Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl in 2011, Minshew had arguably the best season by a graduate transfer QB in college football history, finishing fifth in Heisman Trophy voting while claiming the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and throwing for 4,779 passing yards.

11. Jerome Harrison, football (2004-05): Only two players belong in the conversation when discussing WSU’s best running back: Harrison and Reuben Mayes. While Mayes had more prolonged success as a four-year player who holds the school’s career rushing record, there’s a compelling case to be made for Harrison. Though he didn’t become WSU’s starter until Chris Bruhn got hurt, Harrison still managed to rack up 900 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in his last five games. That set the stage for a prolific senior season, which saw the Kalamazoo, Michigan, native set a school record and lead the NCAA with 1,900 yards, 16 TDs rushing and one more receiving.

Washington State goalkeeper Ella Dederick set the school records for games, minutes and wins.  (Dean Hare/WSU Athletics)
Washington State goalkeeper Ella Dederick set the school records for games, minutes and wins. (Dean Hare/WSU Athletics)

12. Ella Dederick, soccer (2014-19): The most successful goalkeeper in school history was protecting Washington State’s net when the Cougars advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2017, and again when they won a school-record 16 games and advanced through to the College Cup. Dederick is the school’s all-time leader in wins (53), minutes played (8,158:25) and games played (90), ranked second in shutouts (29) and saves (306), and is fourth in goals-against average (0.92). The Camarillo, California, native played in nine postseason games and finished her career with a 6-3 record in the NCAA Tournament.

13. Jason Hill, football (2003-06): Before Gabe Marks broke the school’s touchdown reception record in Mike Leach’s high-volume passing offense, it belonged to Hill, who hauled in 32 TDs in three seasons playing in a scheme that aired it out only a fraction of the time. Whereas Marks had four seasons to take down the school and Pac-12 record, Hill managed it in three, hauling in 148 passes for 2,704 yards from 2004-06. Though Hill doesn’t rank in the school’s top 10 for receptions, the fact he sits No. 2 in touchdowns suggests his ability as a big-play receiver under Bill Doba, totaling 18.3 yards per catch throughout his career, including 22.4 as a sophomore.

14. Gabe Marks, football (2013-16): Falk’s passing numbers wouldn’t have been possible without strong play from the receiver positions, and nobody embodied that more than Marks. The Venice, California, native gave the Cougars four years of production, consistency and toughness at the “Z” receiver position and etched his name into school and conference record books, hauling in more passes (316) than any one in the history of the Pac-12.

Marks’ 37 touchdown catches and 3,454 receiving yards are both school records, and rank second and seven, respectively, in the Pac-12. Marks, whose press conferences were often as entertaining as his play, was a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist in 2015 and was named to the All-Pac-12 first team in 2015 and ’16.

15. Whitney Evans, track and field (1998-2003): A 2013 WSU Hall of Fame inductee, Evans is one of the most decorated athletes – male or female – in school history, as an elite high jumper who also excelled in the heptathlon at a point in time when the event was a major strength for the Pac-10 Conference. Evans was a five-time indoor All-American and was an outdoor All-American three times, claiming an NCAA championship in the high jump and winning the event twice at the Pac-12 Championships. Evans picked up a pair of NCAA runner-up finishes – one outdoor and one indoor – as well as a third- and fourth-place finishes at the national meet.

16. Andre Dillard, football (2014-18): Few players in school history underwent the transformation Dillard did and over the last 20 years, just one of them – Marcus Trufant – was taken higher in the NFL draft. Once a 240-pound recruit whose only other offers came from Portland State and Idaho, Dillard gained 70 pounds and became WSU’s full-time left tackle as a redshirt sophomore, starting the final 39 games of his career – a period of time that saw the Cougars go 28-11 and make three consecutive bowl trips. Regarded as one of the top pass-blockers in the nation, the Woodinville, Washington, native was named an All-American by the AP and Sports Illustrated, and he allowed one sack on 677 pass attempts as a senior.

Washington State guard Borislava Hristova, the school’s all-time leading scorer,  (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State guard Borislava Hristova, the school’s all-time leading scorer, (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)

17. Borislava Hristova, women’s basketball (2015-20): The 38-year-old school scoring record once held by Jeanne Eggart fell during Hristova’s senior season, in a Jan. 5 game against California. Just 10 days later, the scoring machine from Bulgaria became the first player in program history to reach 2,000 career points. The affectionately named “Bobi Buckets” wrapped up her career in Pullman with 2,269 points, giving her the most by any basketball player, men’s or women’s, at the school, and putting her 11th all time in the history of the Pac-12 Conference. A three-time All-Pac-12 selection, Hristova has the second- and fourth-highest single-game scoring efforts in school history and is the program’s all-time leader in minutes played.

Washington State outside hitter Taylor Mims was a standout member of the Cougars volleyball team from 2015-18.  (Courtesy/WSU Athletics)
Washington State outside hitter Taylor Mims was a standout member of the Cougars volleyball team from 2015-18. (Courtesy/WSU Athletics)

18. Taylor Mims, volleyball (2015-18): One of the most dominant outside hitters to come through Bohler Gym, Mims also contributed to one of the most impressive runs by WSU’s volleyball team, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament twice and helping the Cougars reach the Sweet 16 as a senior in 2018. Mims left Pullman with a career record of 79-54 and won AVCA third-team All-America honors as a senior – the first WSU player to earn better than honorable mention since 1996.

A three-time All-Pac-12 selection, Mims is top 10 in career kills (seventh, 1,310), kills per set (T-ninth, 2.91), attack attempts (ninth, 3,562), attack percentage (10th, .214), solo blocks (sixth, 63), points (third, 1,639), block assists (fourth, 374), total blocks (fourth, 437) and matches played (T-10th, 125).

19. Kim Welch, women’s golf (2001-05): While the Cougars haven’t had the team success in women’s golf they’ve had in other sports – largely due to the sheer quality of the Pac-12 – there hasn’t been a more decorated individual in the sport, men’s or women’s, than Welch. The Sacramento, California, native won all-conference honors as a freshman, then repeated that feat the next four years, becoming the first WSU golfer to finish top five at the NCAA Championships as a sophomore in 2003. Welch earned All-American honors as a sophomore and junior and led the nation in tournament wins (five) during the 2004 season. She finished her career with a third-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships, becoming the first male or female golfer at the school to do so.

20. Marcus Trufant, football (1999-2002): Though more revered these days for his decade in the NFL, Trufant left an undeniable imprint on WSU’s secondary in the early 2000s as a four-year starter under longtime coach Mike Price. The Washingtonian led the Cougars with 13 pass breakups as a freshman, was named All-Pac-10 honorable mention as a sophomore and junior and earned an All-Pac-10 first-team nod as a senior, along with first-team All-America honors. Trufant, considered one of the best cornerbacks to come through the WSU program, didn’t concede a touchdown his final two seasons and guided the Cougars to consecutive 10-win seasons, including an appearance in the 2003 Rose Bowl.

Ten more: Brock Motum, men’s basketball (2009-13); Hercules Mata’afa, football (2015-17); Lisa Roman, rowing (2010-12); Michaela Castain, soccer (2010-13); Cody O’Connell, football (2013-17); Kyra Holt, volleyball (2013-16); Aron Baynes, men’s basketball (2005-09); Taylor Rochestie, men’s basketball (2006-09); Jay Miller, baseball (2003-06); Diana Pickler, track and field (2003-07).

Theo Lawson can be reached at (509) 939-5928 or at theol@spokesman.com.

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