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20 for 20: Ranking Whitworth’s top 20 athletes since 2000

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

With 21 varsity sports offered, the Whitworth athletic department has produced no shortage of decorated athletes in the past 20 years.

The university’s dominance of the Northwest Conference is considerable, so much so that it has won 12 consecutive McIlroy-Lewis trophies, a points-based award given annually to the conference’s most successful institution each season.

But that makes the creation of a list of the greatest 20 athletes of the past 20 years a bit of a puzzle, and one that pits swimmers against discus throwers, tennis stars against pitchers.

That’s not to mention any members of the men’s basketball team.

The Pirates’ winning percentage (.851) the past decade is the best in all of Division III.

Even then, the rules that dictated this exercise – that athletes must have played at least half their careers at Whitworth in the 2000s and more than one season – eliminated from contention then is Michael Taylor, arguably the most talented men’s basketball player to compete for the Pirates, who only played for Whitworth during the 2009-10 season.

Yet there were no shortage of candidates, many of whom are already members of the Whitworth Heritage Gallery Hall of Fame, and others who undoubtedly will be someday.

1. Rory Buck, swimming (2009-12): Buck lived in South Africa, Malawi and Dubai before ending up at Whitworth as a 22-year-old freshman, already an accomplished swimmer with an eye toward the Olympics. With the Pirates, he swam like it. As a junior, he was the Division III Men’s Swimmer of the Year, breaking what were then D-III records in the 100- and 200-yard breaststrokes.

Those national records have since fallen, but his times of 54.30 seconds in the 100 and 1:57.79 in the 200 still stand as NWC records. As a senior, he repeated as national champion in both events. After graduating in 2012, Buck finished third at the South African national championships, from which the top two finishers advanced to the Olympics. Buck has since moved back to Dubai, where he is a private swimming coach.

2. Michael Allan, football (2003-06): The Pirates tight end holds program records for career touchdown receptions (29) and yards per catch (18.7) while leading Whitworth to a 10-0 regular-season record and into the second round of the 2006 playoffs. He was named a D-III All-America selection and was selected by Kansas City in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL draft. He played one season .

3. Adam Anderson, football (2007-10): The most decorated running back in program history, Anderson ran for 3,338 yards in three full seasons at Whitworth. He began his career at the University of Idaho but transferred after one season and immediately impacted the Pirates. He was twice named the NWC Offensive Player of the Year, in 2007 and 2008. His 55 touchdowns are a school record.

4. Natalie Turner, swimming (2007-10): A quick scan of the NWC record books yields four instances of Turner’s name – she still has the best times in 200, 500 and 1,650 freestyle events, along with a spot on the 800 freestyle relay – but that doesn’t do justice to her dominance. She never lost an individual dual meet race against an NWC opponent in any of her four seasons and was named the conference’s Women’s Swimmer of the Year each of those years. She led the Pirates to team titles in 2008 and 2010 and qualified for 12 individual events at the D-III championships . Though she didn’t win any D-III national events, she scored more points at those championships than anyone in NWC history. Of the nine freestyle events in the Whitworth school record books (individual and relay), Turner has the fastest time in all but one of them, the 50.

5. Carter Comito, track and field (2009-13): Comito, a Mead High School graduate, first set the Whitworth school record in discus as a sophomore, when he topped a mark that had stood for 50 years. He went on to become a three-time national champion in the event and improved upon his school record of 203 feet, 5 inches, a distance that is the second longest in D-III history. He became a shot putter as well and holds the school record for that event. He was named the NWC’s Field Athlete of the Year his junior and senior seasons and has returned to the program as a coach.

6. Brian Depew, men’s basketball (2001-04): Eight of the prolific Pirates’ top-20 all-time leading scorers have played since Depew graduated in 2004, yet none has caught him. The Central Valley High School graduate remains Whitworth’s all-time scoring leader with 2,013 points, and his career scoring average of 19.4 points per game is still the program’s best. In 2003, he earned NWC Player of the Year honors and led the Pirates to the D-III Tournament for the first time. Since then, they have been back 13 times.

7. Kenny Love, men’s basketball (2014-17): Love is one of 10 NWC players to be named to the conference’s first team in three seasons. In his four seasons, the Pirates were 97-17 overall, and as a sophomore he was the NWC’s Player of the Year. He ranks 17th on the program’s all-time scoring list with 1,259 points, but his impact went beyond scoring.

His senior season he led the Pirates with 122 assists and in free-throw percentage (90.9) and minutes per game (34.0), while ranking second in steals (32) and rebounds (143).

8. Ben College, men’s basketball (2016-20): College holds the program’s single-game record with 11 3-pointers made, and the season-long record with 99, and he is arguably the best pure shooter in program history. But during his senior season, when he led the NWC with 22.9 points per game and was named NWC Player of the Year, he also proved to be a dynamic scorer who could attack the basket. His 1,863 career points rank second on the program’s all-time list, and his career free-throw percentage (88.4) is the best in Whitworth history.

9. Tiffany Speer, women’s basketball (2002-05): One of four women to win NWC Player of the Year, Speer did it twice, during her sophomore and junior seasons. The 2003 team, with Speer as a sophomore, was the most recent Pirates team to win the NWC regular-season championship. Speer’s 1,707 career points are the second most in program history. She also holds the program record for points in a single game (48) and in single-season scoring average (21.1).

10. Emmanuel Bofa, track and field, cross country (2007-11): Bofa twice won the D-III men’s outdoor 800-meter run and twice led the Pirates to NWC team championships, in 2008 and 2010. He holds school records for the indoor (1:50.27) and outdoor 800 (1:48.69). He also competed in the 400, the 4x400 and the 1,500 meters, and he ran cross country.

11. Samantha Kephart, swimming (2005-08): Perhaps the most accomplished butterfly swimmer in NWC history, Kephart’s times in the 100 (55.45) and 200 butterfly (2:00.15) in 2006 still stand as conference records. That year she also set the national D-III record in the 200, a mark that has since been broken. She was part of 11 NWC championship relay teams and won 10 NWC individual titles.

12. Julie Weatherred, volleyball (1999-2002): After transferring from Eastern Washington heading into her junior season, the Ferris High graduate led Whitworth to a conference title in 2001. The Pirates reached the second round of the D-III Tournament. She was named NWC Player of the Year and was the first Pirate to be named an All-America selection in volleyball in 20 years. The next season, Whitworth again won the conference and Weatherred was again named the NWC’s top player.

13. Hugh Smith, baseball (2016-18): The 6-foot-8 right-hander became the rare D-III player to be selected in the Major League Baseball draft when the Detroit Tigers took him in the sixth round in 2018. Earlier that spring, his junior year with the Pirates, Smith started nine games, went 6-1 and finished with a 1.58 ERA along with 67 strikeouts in 62⅔ innings. He was the fifth Pirates player drafted by an MLB team and the first since 2001 (Matt Squires). In 2019, he pitched for the Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps and made 10 starts with an ERA of 3.63.

14. Garrett McKay, football (2014-18): Skilled at finding the gaps in a defense and trusted by his quarterbacks, McKay holds Pirates records for career receptions (270) and receiving yards (3,100). During the wide receiver’s final four seasons – his first year ended because of a knee injury two games in – the Pirates won 35 games, their most over a four-year stretch in program history.

15. George Valle, men’s basketball (2013-16): Valle starred on a string of ranked Whitworth teams and in four seasons won four conference championships. He was also named the NWC Player of the Year as a senior, when he averaged 16.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He started all 116 games he played for the Pirates – winning 100 of them – and finished his career with 1,440 points, 10th most in Whitworth history.

16. Jo Sonnett, softball (2003-06): The pitcher from Puyallup, Washington, holds a number of school records, including career totals for wins (59), innings pitched (599⅔) and complete games (63). As a senior in 2006, Sonnet was named NWC Pitcher of the Year and led the team to its first D-III playoff berth. That season she went 19-8 with an ERA of 1.94.

17. Kristin (Shields) Hinton, track and field (2001-04): The most successful women’s sprinter in school history, Shields set Whitworth records in the 55- and 60-meter runs in 2003, and the 100 and 200 during the outdoor season in 2004. She was the D-III national champion in the 100 in 2004, and she was named the NWC’s Women’s Athlete of the Meet at the conference championships, leading the 400 relay to its fourth straight title. She was also named an Academic All-America selection with a 4.0 college career GPA.

18. Cody Stelzer, track and field (2007-10): The most decorated high jumper in program history, Stelzer was an eight-time All-America selection and qualified for the D-III indoor and outdoor national championships each of his four seasons. At nationals, he won the outdoor high jump in 2008 and the indoor high jump in 2009.

His school records for the indoor (6 feet, 11 inches) and outdoor (6-11½) still stand, as does his record for the pentathlon (3,470 points).

19. Rachel (Burns) Aldridge, tennis (2008-11): During the Pirates’ three-year run of NWC championships from 2009 to 2011, Burns played an integral role. She was named the NWC Player of the Year as a senior, and over her final three seasons she finished with overall records of 44-16 as a No. 1 singles player and 34-19 as a No. 1 doubles player.

The Pirates lost just once conference match during those seasons.

She became an assistant coach for Whitworth in 2012 and has been head coach since 2015.

20. Todd Sabrowski, men’s soccer (2002-05): Sabrowski, an outside defender, was at his best as a senior, scoring the second-most goals (11) on the team and leading the Pirates to a 19-2-1 record. They advanced to the D-III semifinals, and Sabrowski was named NWC Defensive Player of the Year for the second season in a row. In his career, he scored 27 goals and had a school-record 34 assists.

10 more: Natalie Danielson, volleyball (2004-05); Ian Kolste, football (2013-16); Kayla Leland, track and field (2015-18); KC McConnell, women’s basketball (2013-16); David Riley, men’s basketball (2008-11); Kyle Roach, men’s basketball (2016-19); Ryan Symes, men’s basketball (2007-08); Jay Tully, football (2004-07); Kevin Wang, swimming (2001-04); Kerry Wright, track and field (2003-06).

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