The Spokesman-Review’s three-part series of all-time top-three rankings in Inland Northwest sports continues today with the focus on colleges. The pros were covered last Sunday; high schools will be featured next Sunday. Today’s coverage also includes four top-three lists open to pros and amateurs.
College male athletes
Gerry Lindgren, Washington State track and field and cross country. Lindgren, one of the all-time greats in college sports, won 11 NCAA titles – eight in distance races and three in cross country – in the 1960s. Lindgren never achieved Olympics glory, but the Rogers High School graduate beat some of the world’s most renowned runners, including Steve Prefontaine and Jim Ryun. Lindgren is a member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Honorable mention: Henry Rono, WSU track and field and cross country. Rono accomplished perhaps the most amazing feat in track and field history – four world records in distance races in a span of 81 days in 1978. Rono won three NCAA track titles in distance races and three NCAA championships in cross country. He was named to Kenya’s Olympic track team in 1976 and 1980, but Kenya boycotted the Olympics both years.
Also: John Olerud, WSU baseball. Olerud put together one of the greatest seasons in college baseball history in 1988. The sophomore first baseman-pitcher-designated hitter earned College Player of the Year honors when he went 15-0 on the mound and hit .464 with 23 homers and 81 RBIs in 66 games. One year later, he began a stellar 17-year career in the major leagues when the Toronto Blue Jays brought him straight to the majors after a banner season with WSU’s unofficial summer team (when such teams were legal for individual schools). Olerud is a member of the College Baseball Hall of a Fame, and he was named Baseball Player of the Century in the Pac-12 Conference. The John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award is presented to the college player who best combines pitching and playing in the field and/or serving as a designated hitter.
College women athletes
Courtney Vandersloot, Gonzaga basketball. The dynamic point guard became the first NCAA basketball player – male or female – to amass 2,000 points and 1,000 assists in a career. Vandersloot earned various All-America honors her last three seasons at Gonzaga. She set the NCAA Division I record with 367 assists as a senior in 2010-11, when she led the Bulldogs to their only Elite Eight NCAA Tournament appearance. That season, Vandersloot won the Nancy Lieberman Award as Division I’s best point guard (she averaged 19.8 points and a nation-leading 10.2 assists per game), and she won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award as the nation’s best player 5-8 or shorter. Vandersloot has enjoyed a record-setting career in the WNBA since being drafted third overall by Chicago in 2011. She left Chicago to sign with the New York Liberty this season.
Honorable mention: Sarah Silvernail, WSU volleyball. Silvernail wrapped up her college career almost three decades ago, but she still holds school records for kills in a career (1,848), season (649) and match (39). The 6-1 middle blocker was a first-team All-American in 1996, when she was named the Pac-10 Player of the Year after leading the Cougars to their first Elite Eight berth in the NCAA Tournament. Silvernail, who played professionally and trained with the U.S. national team, is a member of the Pac-12 Hall of Honor.
Also: Morgan Weaver, WSU soccer. Weaver started in all 85 games WSU played during her four years in Pullman, and she led the 2019 Cougars to their only College Cup (NCAA soccer’s final four) before losing to second-ranked North Carolina 2-1 in the semifinals. The Cougars defeated two top-five teams earlier in the tournament en route to a school-record 16 wins, and Weaver made the all-tournament team. Weaver ranks second in WSU history with 43 goals and 98 points and leads the Cougars in NCAA Tournament career goals (six) and points (10). She earned All-America third-team honors in 2019, then was selected second overall in the National Women’s Soccer League draft by the Portland Thorns.
College men’s teams
2020-21 Gonzaga basketball. The Bulldogs were undefeated and ranked No. 1 all season in the Associated Press Top 25 poll before getting thumped 86-70 by Baylor in the NCAA Tournament title game. Forward Drew Timme (19.0 points, 7.0 rebounds), wing Corey Kispert (18.6 points, 5.0 rebounds) and guard Jalen Suggs (14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists) earned various All-America honors with the 31-1 Bulldogs.
Honorable mention. 1968 Washington State track and field. WSU finished second at the NCAA meet, just one point behind USC. The Cougars produced six All-Americans, including 5,000- and 10,000-meter champion Gerry Lindgren, javelin champ Carl O’Donnell and discus winner John Van Rennen. WSU’s only national team championship in any sport came in men’s indoor track and field in 1977, but most schools place far more emphasis on the outdoor season. WSU sent only seven athletes to the indoor meet.
Also: 2016-17 Gonzaga basketball. The Bulldogs came up short in their first NCAA championship game, bowing 71-65 to North Carolina. Five Zags averaged 10 or more points per game that season, led by guard Nigel Williams-Goss (16.8), a junior transfer from Washington. Williams-Goss also contributed 6.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.7 steals, and he made the Associated Press All-America second team and the Academic All-America first team. Gonzaga set a school record for wins while posting a 37-2 record.
College women’s teams
2019 Washington State soccer. The Cougars won a school-record 16 games and reached the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament for the only time in school history. WSU beat a pair of top-five teams in the tournament before dropping a 2-1 decision to second-ranked North Carolina. The Cougars, who were just 5-5-1 in the rugged Pac-12, finished 16-7-1 overall and were ranked a school-best fourth in the final poll.
Honorable mention: 1996 WSU volleyball. The Cougars advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight for the first time, but eventual champion Stanford swept the Cougars in three games. WSU (27-6) was led by first-team All-America middle blocker Sarah Silvernail and second-team All-America setter Stephanie Papke.
Also: 2010-11 Gonzaga basketball. The Bulldogs made their only Elite Eight appearance, when perennial power Stanford downed Gonzaga 83-60 at the Spokane Arena. Standout point guard Courtney Vandersloot led GU (31-5) in her final college game with 25 points – including 18 straight Gonzaga points in the first half – and nine assists. The Bulldogs set a school record for wins and were undefeated against West Coast Conference rivals in the regular season and the conference tournament.
College men’s team coaches
Mark Few, Gonzaga. A no-brainer if there ever was one. Count yours truly among countless observers who are forever baffled by the occasional knucklehead who rips Few for never having won a national championship. After all, so many other coaches have reached two national title games in ANY sport at ANY level. Or have won or shared 22 regular-season conference championships in 24 years on the job. Or have won 19 conference tournament championships. Or have participated in the NCAA Tournament every year he or she has been a head coach (except for 2020, when the tournament was canceled due to the pandemic). Or owns the highest winning percentage (.836) in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history for head coaches in 600 or more games. All that, and a 689-135 record isn’t quite good enough for some folks.
Honorable mention: Bobo Brayton, Washington State baseball. True, Brayton had a huge advantage over many WSU baseball coaches in that he did not have to play conference games against warm-weather schools most years. It is also true that Brayton’s grit, recruiting magic and motivational skills consistently earned WSU baseball more national respect than the vast majority of sports on the Palouse. From 1962-94, Brayton’s 33 WSU teams posted a 1,162-523-8 record (.690), won 21 league championships and made two trips to the College World Series. Brayton, an All-American shortstop at WSU, coached 23 players who went on to the major leagues, including the likes of John Olerud, Ron Cey and Aaron Sele. Brayton was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
Also: John Chaplin, WSU men’s track and field and cross country. Chaplin suffered through the frustration of finishing second at the NCAA outdoor track meet four times – once by a single point – but he remains the only WSU coach to win an official NCAA team title, thanks to the 1977 indoor track championship. Chaplin compiled an amazing 202-15 (.931) record in dual meets. He bolstered his rosters with foreign athletes he found all over the world and somehow lured to tiny, rural Pullman. A star sprinter at WSU, Chaplin coached 34 NCAA champions in cross country and indoor and outdoor track. He was head coach of the 2000 U.S. Olympics track and field team, and he’s a member of the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
College women’s team coaches
Todd Shulenberger, Washington State soccer. In eight seasons at WSU, Shulenberger has won more games (90), posted the two highest win totals in a single season (16 and 14) and made more NCAA Tournament appearances (five) than any other Cougars soccer coach. The 2019 Cougars are the only WSU soccer team that advanced to the College Cup (final four), where the Cougars lost 2-1 to second-ranked North Carolina after beating two top-five teams to reach the semifinals. WSU’s No. 4 final national ranking that year is the best in school history.
Honorable mention: Kelly Graves, Gonzaga basketball. Women’s basketball at Gonzaga went from awful to awesome in a hurry once Graves arrived. Following eight consecutive losing seasons – including Graves’ first two years on the job – Graves posted winning records every season in his remaining 12 years at Gonzaga, and he guided the Bulldogs to the first seven NCAA Tournaments in program history. The 2010-11 squad (31-5) set a school record for wins and reached the Elite Eight for the only time in team history. Graves, who compiled a 316-136 (.699) record at GU, won 25 or more games seven times and claimed 10 straight West Coast Conference regular-season titles before leaving for Oregon in 2014.
Also: Cindy Fredrick, Washington State volleyball. Fredrick holds the all-time WSU women’s sports record for coaching victories, posting a 278-192 (.591) record from 1989-2003. Seven of her 15 teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament, including the first two of three WSU teams that reached the NCAA Elite Eight (1996 and 2002).
Howie Stalwick covered sports for The Spokesman-Review and a long list of other media outlets nationwide (often as a freelancer) for more than four decades. He retired in his hometown of Spokane in 2016. Howie’s top-three rankings were the result of months of research and interviews and a lifetime of memories as a sports writer, athlete and spectator. Howie may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.