WSU Falls to USC, Not a Top-Tier Team Yet

Photo courtesy of WSU Athletics.

Photo courtesy of WSU Athletics.

By Jamey Vinnick

WSU fought hard, but once again came up short against a better, more talented USC Trojans team. The Cougars came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, jumping out to a 14-3 lead in the first 3 and a half minutes, behind four quick three pointers. It wasn’t unlike USC to play a bad stretch, though, considering they were down by 10 at the half to Washington earlier in the week. USC started to get hot afterwards, though, and WSU went cold leading to a 38-33 USC lead at halftime. The Cougs kept the game close for most of the 2nd half, but had no answer for the perimeter game of Jonah Mathews and especially no answer for Chimezie Metu, who went for a career high 29 points en route to an 86-77 Trojan victory.

Metu’s day wasn’t totally surprising considering his skill, but it did provide some concern for WSU. Between Metu, and UCLA’s bigs T.J. Leaf and Thomas Welsh, the trio combined to go 34-42 from the field for 78 points in two games. While that is a testament to how good those three players are, it’s also a testament to the fact that the Cougs’ inside defense isn’t particularly strong. Josh Hawkinson is a fine defender, but he’s not strong enough or defensively sound to stick with players of those caliber. As for Robert Franks, he’s not nearly physical enough while Jeff Pollard isn’t big enough and Connor Clifford isn’t nearly fast enough. It’s one of a few things that proves that while WSU has improved by a country mile from last year, they are still not near the level of the Pac 12’s elite.

With the exception of Stanford and Utah, WSU has shown flashes of competitiveness in all of their conference losses so far this year. While UCLA pulled away from the Cougs towards the end, WSU held tight with the far more talented Bruins team led by Lonzo Ball. The same was true against Arizona the week prior, as the Cougs went punch for punch with the superior Wildcats team, until UA got hot and stretched the lead late. Against the mighty Oregon Ducks, the Cougars were tied at half and hung around for a good part of the second half until the Chris Boucher show started. WSU also had a great chance to beat Cal, but a horrible shooting day from the seniors led to a tough loss in Berkeley.

In those games, the better team pulling away at the end is what really separates the best of the best from the Cougars. After just one conference win last year, the Cougs have improved nicely, already winning four this year. The issue is, all four wins have come against the bottom feeders of the Pac. Oregon State is lost without Tres Tinkle, and UW has Markelle Fultz, Matisse Thybulle and a whole lot of nothing else. While WSU will take whatever wins they can, it’s a pretty telling story that all the wins are against teams lower on the totem pole than they are. With a couple extra pieces, though, and some more experience for their underclassmen, WSU is a team who could find themselves competing towards the top of the PAC in a couple years.

A Sad Holiday

By Katherine Barner

The Cougar defense played well, but it wasn’t enough to overcome WSU’s slow offense in the Cougar’s 17-12 loss to the University of Minnesota in the 2016 Holiday Bowl. Photo credit: Katherine Barner

It was a sad holiday for Washington State University as they faced off against the University of Minnesota in the National Funding Holiday Bowl. The Cougs lost 17–12, which was a major upset for WSU fans.

Washington State was favored due to Minnesota’s attempt to boycott the game when 10 of its players were suspended for sexual assault. Most people favored the Cougs because Minnesota missed a few practices leading up to the game. Even though that is true, Head Coach Tracy Claeys said that the team was adjusting well to the new starters. He went on to say that it is something his team deals with week by week whether it is caused by injuries or in this case suspensions.

On the flip side, the biggest news surrounding WSU is whether or not quarterback Luke Falk will stay for his senior year. Prior to the Holiday Bowl, Coach Leach was asked about Falk’s plans and he said, “I don’t believe he is leaving.”

Throughout the 2016 football season, Falk completed an average of 70 percent of his passes. Claeys was asked how Minnesota was preparing for that kind of accuracy. He said, “Hopefully they’re having a little bit of an off day and whether that’s through drops, or whatever, but it’s hard to rely on him to be inaccurate because he’s done such a good job all year long.”

Claeys was lucky because it did seem Falk and his offensive linemen were having an off day at the Holiday Bowl. It is easy to say that this was Falk’s worst game of his college career. He completed 30 of 51 passes for 264 yards and one touchdown.

During the postgame press conference, it was easy to see that Falk was upset with his performance. He was asked why it was so tough to get the offense going, to which he responded, “We didn’t play like we practiced all week long, all year long, do the things that we do that make us successful on offense, we didn’t do those things. It’s on me.”

With everyone’s eyes on Falk he was then asked the ominous question of whether he will stay at WSU for his senior year to which he said, “next question.”

If Falk decides to head to the draft, the next question is who will Leach choose to take over the quarterback position. The current right-hand man of Falk is Tyler Hilinski. Hilinski played in three games this season against Idaho, Arizona, and California. In all three games the redshirt freshman did a great job at completing passes, averaging 74.4 percent with 245 yards and two touchdowns.

Even though Hilinski is stepping up to the plate, he may have some new competition. Back in November, it was announced that John Bledsoe, the son of WSU and NFL star Drew Bledsoe, has accepted a preferred walk-on at Washington State. For his senior year, Bledsoe completed 65 percent of his passes with 2,670 yards passing, 26 passing touchdowns, and eight rushing touchdowns.

If Falk leaves for the draft and Bledsoe redshirts, it is almost certain that Hilinski will be the starting quarterback for next season, but if Falk decides to stay and Bledsoe doesn’t redshirt, Hilinski’s days at WSU may be numbered.

Final Homestand Bodes Well for Future of Cougar Soccer

By Dylan Haugh

The 2016 Washington State Women’s Soccer season came to a close Thursday night in Pullman, a season that’s been marred with seven one goal losses and plenty of shots off the crossbar. The Cougars defeated the Washington Huskies 2-0 on goals from senior Kaitlyn (Kaito) Johnson and stud transfer Alysha Overland. For the 13th straight year, the Cougars remained unbeaten against the Huskies.

Head Coach Todd Shulenburger challenged his team before the game, “The first thing I said in the pregame, you’re down 1-0 tonight, now you got to come back.”

When you look at the season statistics, the Cougs out-shot their opponents 322-214, were +33 in shots on goal, and +25 in corner kicks. Go figure, huh? The Pac-12 has long been dominant in soccer for men and women. It’s a breeding ground for future professional players on both sides. Currently, five Pac-12 teams (USC, Stanford, UCLA, Utah, Cal) sit in the Women’s D1 Top 25, and the Cougs played each of them on the road, losing by one goal each time, with the exception of one match.

“Every one of those games, we were in on the road. Last minute goal here, last-minute goal there. I still think we are a better soccer team now as far as playing soccer, and you can ask the coaches in the conference,” Shulenburger said.

The Cougars are knocking on the doorstep nationally and will head into the 2017 season as a sneaky, under the radar team. For the Cougs to take that next step, this returning group must produce results on the road (0-6-1 in 2016). Two trips to California against four nationally ranked powerhouses will have its benefits come next season when the Cougars face tough road contests.

Freshman sensation Morgan Weaver ran circles around opposing teams this season, leading the team with eight goals. Against the Huskies, Weaver finally checked into the assist column, splitting a double-team inside the box and setting up Johnson for a one-touch strike to the back of the net. Johnson spoke with a smile when asked about Weaver’s dish.

“It was awesome, I have always been on the assisting end of her goals, mostly this year, so it was awesome. She’s going to grow into a really great player here.”

Weaver goes about her business quietly. On the field, she’s a silent assassin looking for the back of the net, making constant runs and winning 50/50 balls. Weaver finished the year 4th in the Pac-12 in shots, and 5th in goals. When asked if anybody can keep up with her, her sweet innocence showed.

Do you feel like anyone can keep up with you speed wise? “Yeah!” You do? “Yeahhh.” Anyone on the Huskies? “I don’t know.” You look faster than everyone out there… Chuckles. “I don’t like saying stuff like this.”

Overland will look to build off an incredible season up top. The JC transfer continued to perform, gaining more playing time throughout the year. Overland’s shot on goal percentage was 50% this season as she converted 6/12 opportunities. More importantly, Overland’s goals were clutch, with four of them being game-winning goals. Shulenburger praised his diamond in the rough.

“The kid never played club soccer, she came from a junior college. She had big goals this year. UCLA, Santa Clara, UW, I mean the list goes on,”

With core players like Weaver (Fr),  Kelsey Crenshaw (Jr), Overland (So), Grace Hancock (So), Maegan O’Neill (So), Ella Dederick (So), Sofia Anker-Kofoed (Jr), and Maddy Haro (So) returning, the Cougs look to build off a solid final three-game stretch.

The performance from this younger Cougar nucleus in 2016 will surely give Shulenburger and the rest of the Cougar staff confidence in getting the program on track for a tourney run. There’s nothing sweeter than ending the season with a win over the Huskies.

Behind the Scenes of a WSU Game Day

By Taegan Whiteley

Today I will take you, the readers, behind the scenes of the Washington State women’s soccer team and show what really goes on behind the scenes and what it truly takes to put on a game day event. To really appreciate and recognize the management skills that go on to make a home game happen, I had to immerse myself in their positions.

Thursday, October 27, the woman’s soccer team was set to kick off at 7p.m. against Oregon State. I arrived at the Lower Soccer Field at 5 p.m. and by the time I got there, I was extremely thankful that I brought a rain coat because the rain did not let up. I was met at the field by Andrew, who is a student at WSU and earning credits for his internship where he learns and partakes in game day management festivities. One of Andrew’s main jobs is sideline management – he makes sure that the coaches don’t slit each other’s throats and also that they do not step on the field. In any sport, we have seen coaches step out of line because games can be especially frustrating when it’s not going their way. So, Andrew makes sure that everything on the sidelines is going smoothly.

Doing sideline control is just one extremely small aspect that goes into game day management. Each week before a home game, the head of each department comes together and discusses important information such as official needs, promotions and what they specifically need to make their game day go smoothly. Just like teams at WSU, the heads of each department work as a team to collectively make sure that everything goes according to plan. However, sometimes that’s not always the case. A lot of problems can arise, especially when there are multiple sports playing in one weekend; miscommunication can be their biggest issue. But there are issues that can happen that aren’t as controllable as others. The very first time WSU hosted a NCAA tournament, mother nature decided to dump 4-5 inches of snow and kickoff was set at 11 a.m.. They had approximately two hours to clear the entire field, but luckily they had the support from other departments and made sure the field was ready to go by kickoff.

Next, I had the opportunity to talk to Jen Hanson, who has been the director of marketing and promotions for WSU athletics for the past six years. Most of her work is done during the summer, so by the time fall rolls around, she has a set plan for the upcoming season’s marketing and promotions plan. This soccer season was especially exciting because Hanson changed her marketing and promotions plan in order to attract more fans to games. Previously, they would have huge promotion giveaways, but more often than not, fans would pick up their free giveaway and leave. Hanson noticed this and decided to make a change. She and her promotions team decided to give the voucher system a try, and at halftime fans could then receive their giveaway. Since doing this, fan attendance has been the highest it has ever been.

I caught up with Bill Stevens, who is the athletic director of media communications who oversees all media and communication of football, tennis and soccer. Since this past week WSU played at home, Stevens started calling T.V. crews and broadcast networks on Monday. When broadcasters can’t physically be in Pullman, it is Stevens’ job to go over game notes and break each and every previous game played down. He catches broadcasters up to speed so that they can still talk with authority to a national audience. Stevens also runs the soccer website, and tries to get out as much information as he can to the media as well as pitches story ideas. When pitching story ideas, it is his main goal to tell the players’ stories and make it so that they aren’t just seen as soccer players but as student-athletes with hopes and dreams outside of athletics. Stevens is the go-to guy if you want to coordinate interviews with coaches and players since players are on such a strict schedule they don’t want to disrupt any free time that they are given. Stevens said that the benefit of his job is that “they pay me to watch sports every day and I would honestly take that any day.”

This was definitely eye-opening for me. Yes, this is only part of what really goes on to put on a game day event but I hope it gives you an insight to the crazy world of sports and sports management. The WSU game day management team works as a team to put on event that we as fans love going to, and without their hard work and dedication, game days wouldn’t be a thing that at WSU we celebrate

No. 23 UCLA Drowned by the Cougars

By Taegan Whiteley

PULLMAN – This was an extremely inspiring weekend for the Washington State women’s swim team. The Cougars defeated No. 23 UCLA 143-119 at Gibb Pool on Saturday, October 29. This is the first meet in school history that the Cougars beat the Bruins, as WSU swam away with top finishes in 10 out of the 14 events.

The Cougars started the meet off by grabbing a win in the 200-medley relay. The team consisted of junior Hannah Bruggman, freshman Angela Mavrantza; junior Anna Brolin, and senior Haley Rose Love. The team broke its personal record and clocked a time of 1:43.28; the fastest they have swam this season.

Sophomore Jasmine Margetts carried the team on her back and contributed 27 points to the Cougars. She had wins in the 100 back (56.67), 200 back (2:01.77) and 400 Individual Medley (4:24.16). Freshman Ryan Falk continued to stun fans and coaches with her wins. This weekend, Falk took first in the 200 free with a time of 1:52.29, and later she grabbed another win, finishing her 500 free at 4:58.36. With Falk’s wins, she helped add 18 points to WSU’s score. Mavrantza had a notable win in the 100-breast stroke, just out-touching UCLA’s Emma Schanz by just .28 seconds.

The Cougars continued racking up points throughout the meet and finished out strong in the 400 free relay. Washington State’s ‘A’ quartet of Bruggman, Rose Love, sophomore Penny Nichols and Falk placed second with a time of 3:27.64, and were out-touched by one second by UCLA. Washington State’s ‘B’ relay team, which consisted of senior Anna Rosen, junior Rachel Thompson, sophomore Ciera Kelly and senior Hailey Johnson, followed with a time of 3:31.93.

The Washington State women’s swim team returns to Gibb Pool Thursday, November 3 to swim against Northern Arizona at 5 p.m.

“Play With a Coug” Tennis Recap

By Taegan Whiteley

 

On Friday, Sept. 30 the Washington State University tennis team hosted their annual “Play with a Cougar” event. Members of the Pullman community and tennis fans were invited to join the team in an evening of fun festivities, including competitions and one-on-one instruction.

WSU Hall of Famer Rex Davis made an appearance at the event and was recognized for his outstanding work during his coaching career. Davis coached both gymnastics and tennis from 1966 to 1994. What was interesting about talking to Davis was him telling me how he learned how to play tennis.

While stationed in Korea, Davis was an assistant at the gym (tennis courts had been built for the commanding general) where the man who was in charge of the gym taught Davis how to play. After leaving the Army, Davis would go on to teach gymnastics and tennis for the next 11 seasons, eventually ending up at WSU to coach.

After catching up with Davis and two of his old players, I got the chance to talk to Lisa Hart, who is now entering her 13th season as the Washington State head women’s tennis coach. Hart is extremely confident with her team this year, especially having three returners.

“Aneta Miksovska, Victoria Matejevic and Barbora Michalkova have been doing a really great job at stepping up and being leaders for the younger girls,” she said. With their official season around the corner, the girls have been playing in tournaments around the country, and as Hart said, “developing their game so that the girls are ready to go by January.”

Sophomore Team Captain Miksovska was born and raised in Stramberk, Czech Republic and has been playing tennis since the age of just five years old. Miksovska had spent the past few years playing on the International Tennis Federation circuit, where in 2015 she reached quarterfinals of the tournament in Trnava, Slovakia. At first, Miksovska found being far away from home hard, but she soon adjusted.

“I got to know my teammates and coaches, and it became a little easier knowing that we all came from far away,” Miksovska said. “But I love it here and I am very happy here.”

For the next couple weeks, the girls will stay here in Pullman, developing their game and skills as they prepare for the ITA Regional Tournament hosted by Stanford University from October 21-24, where more than 8,000 of the country’s top men and women’s players from around the country will gather to compete.

Loaded Bases and Cold Bats: Cougar Baseball Goes Cold Against Sun Devils (published by Alex Clark)

What the heck is the problem with the WSU baseball team? The last series against the ASU Sun Devils revealed that the problems that the Cougars face are far more than what was originally expected.

 

Over the weekend, the Cougars took only one game out of three from the team from the team from Tempe. While on the outside, this series looked like any other, it is what lies inside the box score that reveals the true demons of this team.

 

Before I analyze the games, the team has had some obvious problems going into the series.

 

The big problem was general defense. According to WSUCougars.com, the team has committed a grand total of 36 errors. They have played only 25 games which means that they make, on average, 1.44 errors per game. Each error means that another runner either gets on base, advances any number of bases, or possibly both. Errors only help the opposing team win easier.

 

The other problem was the offense. While there were games where the offense would explode for several runs, there were games where they would be held to maybe one or zero runs. With the offense being this streaky, it makes it near impossible for the pitching to do meaningful work.

 

The pitching is another problem, but I feel it isn’t too fair to judge the pitching when the defense puts them into positions where they are doomed to fail.

 

Now getting into the series against ASU, these problems are evident, along with a few others.

 

In game one, the Cougars lost badly by a score of 10-1 to ASU. This game was led by horrible defense and an offense that never got it going.

 

The Cougars committed a total of five errors in the game and only got five hits which resulted in one run. The Sun Devils were able to score ten runs on nine hits and only commit two errors. ASU was also led by pitcher Seth Martinez who went the distance getting five strikeout, no walks and not surrendering a single earned run.

 

Two Cougars did get two hits in the game. Redshirt Junior Trek Stemp and Freshman Mason Cerrillo both were able to get two hits apiece off of Martinez.

 

Game two was a completely different story though. The Cougars were able to score early in the game and keep the lead going through the game. Junior Ian Hamilton went five innings before Sophomore Ryan Walker went the rest of the way to earn an unusual four-inning save. The offense scored early and often. ASU never held a lead at any point in this game.

 

This game was an example of what this team is truly capable of. Thankfully, this game also gave Ian Hamilton his first win of the season bringing his record to 1-6.

 

The point where this series took a dark turn is in game three where WSU lost by a humiliating score of 18-3. That is not a typo, and this has been fact-checked. The Cougars lost by 15 points. There are only a few things that need to be said about this game. Combined as a team, the Cougars gave up 15 walks. That number alone should make baseball fans let out a small tear. The other is that they gave up 18 runs on 13 hits. That means most of those runs came from walks, not legitimate hits.

 

The series answered some questions about this team’s problems, but it raises more from it.

 

In this series, the offensive problems were addressed and shown for what they are. They were streaky and unpredictable. Over the course of the series, they scored an average of 4.3 runs per game, but without game two’s scoring production, they only scored on average two runs per game. That is horrible.

 

The other problem was the walks. In the series, the team gave up 22 walks. This takes the expression “can’t find the strike zone with a map” to a whole new level. Even though most came in game three alone, that number needs to change if the Cougars want to win in the future.

 

However, while these problems can be addressed, there is one conundrum from the series that can’t be answered so easily.

 

If the third game wasn’t weird enough, there was one stat that blew my mind once the game was over. Even though they lost by 15 points, the Cougars did not have a single error in the game.

 

In one of the biggest blowouts in recent Cougar history, the defense was nearly spotless.

 

This only goes to show how important limiting walks in games really is. Even if the defense does it’s job, it doesn’t matter if the pitching gives away free bases like they were flyers at an event table. .

 

Whatever the true reason for the Cougar’s struggles may be, I think I speak for everyone when I say that this team has amazing potential. With young stars like Mason Cerrillo and Ty Johnson, combined with team veterans like Ian Hamilton and Trek Stemp, the Cougars have a lot of talent up and down the lineup. There are a ton of problems that the team has to fix, and their ability to work through them will be the difference between winning going forward and being doomed to last place in the Pac-12.