An Idaho 20 for 20? As in the number of conferences the Vandals have called home since the turn of the century?
Just kidding. It only seems as if they changed addresses every year. In truth, it’s just been four – the Big West, WAC, Sun Belt and Big Sky.
Just as true: The Vandals have made their mark in all of them.
Yes, it’s often been a struggle in football and men’s basketball, and any list of the school’s top 20 performers over the past 20 years must reflect that. But while Idaho’s won just 37% of its games over that time in those two sports, it’s also claimed 41 team and 235 individual titles off the rest of the menu.
Two ground rules, as set down in previous 20-for-20s: Picks are weighted toward achievements in school and not post-graduation, and athletes must have played half their careers in the 2000s. At Idaho, for example, that disqualifies Alli Nieman, a Hall of Famer in basketball and volleyball but a senior in 2000.
And speaking of Nieman, a shoutout to a pair of athletes in her mold, Ali Forde and Katelyn Peterson. Neither cracked this group, but both managed some sort of all-conference mention or a championship in two sports. Maybe that’s another list for another time.
1. Joachim Olsen, track and field (1999-2002): His post-Idaho highlights are dizzying – an Olympic bronze medal in 2004, winning the fifth season of Denmark’s version of “Dancing with the Stars” and being elected to the Danish parliament. At Idaho, all he did was become the first Vandal in 32 years to win an NCAA track title – the shot put in 2000 – plus being runner-up indoors and outdoors five times. By 2002, he’d been Big West champion in the throws six times and ranked fifth in the world in the shot put, his best of 70 feet, 9¼ inches still the UI record.
2. Mike Iupati, football (2006-09): Assistant Johnny Nansen discovered him at a barbecue for recruits – at a junior college – and he had to pay his way to UI for a year. But like the man himself, the payoff was huge. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound Samoan road grader became the No. 17 pick in the 2010 NFL draft after a consensus All-American season in which he allowed no sacks and helped the Vandals to a Humanitarian Bowl win. He was also a finalist for the 2009 Outland Trophy with the likes of Russell Okung and Ndamukong Suh.
3. Mikayla Ferenz, women’s basketball (2016-19): Half of the “Splash Sisters” combo with Taylor Pierce, the Walla Walla sharpshooter climbed to the top of the Big Sky career scoring list in four years, finishing with 2,466 points. Her first big splash was getting the Vandals into the NCAA bracket in 2016 with an MVP performance at the Big Sky Tournament. She would be all-tournament two more times, All-Big Sky three times and league Player of the Year in 2019.
4. Emily Faurholt, women’s basketball (2004-06): In an unlikely leap, the 5-11 center went from an 11-points-per-game scorer at Division II Seattle Pacific to leading Division I in scoring with a 25.4 average in the first year of her transfer to Idaho. She was Big West Player of the Year in 2004 and All-Big West again the next, and boasts the highest career scoring average in Idaho history – 22.0.
5. Angela Whyte, track and field (2001-03): The New Mexico transfer scored 81½ points to lead the Vandals to Big West track crowns in 2001 and 2003, winning five events and running on three winning relays. Whyte owns seven school records – including in the heptathlon – and scored in the NCAA 60-meter hurdles indoors in 2003. Later, she was a three-time Olympic hurdler for Canada.
6. Sophie Hausmann, golf (2016-19): Started taking her game to the next level even before her senior year, qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open, plus a slew of prestigious amateur events. And she was nails at this level – winning the Big Sky title as a freshman and junior, when she shot a tournament-record 206. She was twice Big Sky Player of the Year and led the Vandals to a pair of team championships while climbing as high as 54th in the world amateur rankings.
7. Russ Winger, track and field (2005-08): The Colorado strongman did everything but win an NCAA title at Idaho – runner-up indoors in the shot put three times, and three other times in the top five of the shot or discus outdoors. A five-time conference champion, his 199-foot, 6-inch discus throw remains the school record – though he reached 202-1 competing unattached as a junior.
8. Austin Rehkow, football (2013-16): He never managed to equal the 67-yard field goal he made in high school, but the Central Valley grad was college football’s best two-way kicker in his time. Rehkow graduated as Idaho’s career leader in kick scoring and field goals (70), making 26 of 29 as a senior. He also led the nation in punting average (47.8) as a freshman and was top 10 two other times, earning All-WAC first team honors for three years.
9. Marianna Petrei, tennis (2016-19): It took until the final match of her career for the quiet Italian to lose to a Big Sky opponent after 41 wins. Before that, she was Big Sky Player of the Year three times, including a sensational junior year when she won the ITA Mountain regional and became the first player in Idaho history to play in the NCAA singles bracket, reaching the round of 32.
10. Chelsea Small, soccer (2009-12): The definition of a game-changer, Small’s scoring prowess flipped the script at Idaho, which won just one game the year before she arrived – and 37 over the next four. She was an All-WAC first-teamer each year, and Player of the Year in 2010 – leaving with six school records, including 39 career goals and 16 winners.
11. Stacey Barr, women’s basketball (2011-15): She’d come off the bench the first month of the season and Idaho had a losing record going into the 2013 WAC Tournament. Then she averaged 20 points over three games and the Vandals earned their first NCAA berth in 28 years. The Australian guard was WAC Player of the Year and tournament MVP again in 2014 as the Vandals returned to the NCAAs, and then led the Big Sky in scoring as a senior with a 21.3 average.
12. David Vobora, football (2004-07): The last man picked in the 2008 NFL draft got him the title “Mr. Irrelevant,” but he was anything but at UI. A two-time All-WAC first -team pick at linebacker, he twice led the league in tackles, and his 148 as a senior ranked him fifth nationally and second in Idaho history. By career’s end, he had 342 for seventh on the UI career list.
13. Kyle Barone, men’s basketball (2010-13): Getting Idaho basketball to be competitive in the WAC took some heavy lifting and Barone did much of it – in fact, he was the league Player of the Year in 2013, as the top scorer (18.2) and rebounder (10.9) in conference play. But the 6-10 center wasn’t a one-year wonder. He left Idaho as the No. 7 scorer (1,433 points) and No. 2 rebounder, too.
14. Jake Scott, football (2000-03): It’s tough to build a resume on the offensive line, especially when your teams win just 11 games in four years. But before he was a fifth-round draft pick and embarked on a nine-year NFL career, Scott was twice second-team All-WAC and started 46 games at weak-side tackle – after walking on out of Lewiston.
15. Victor Sanders, men’s basketball (2015-18): Explosive and entertaining, Sanders was unlucky to play in a league that holds to a five-man first-team in handing out all-conference honors. So he only reached that distinction once, but the Vandals won 62 games his last three seasons and he left his name all over the career record book: scoring and 3-pointers (second), assists (fifth) and steals (third).
16. Haley Larsen, volleyball (2005-08): A late starter who only tried volleyball midway through high school, Larsen picked it up quickly and departed Idaho as the school’s career kills leader by a whopping margin with 1,775. She’s also UI’s only four-time all-conference volleyball player, twice making the WAC’s first team.
17. Hannah Kiser, track and cross country (2010-14): Idaho dominated WAC women’s cross country with four straight titles early last decade and Kiser was a big reason, winning back-to-back races in 2012-13. On the track, the Wenatchee runner was a league champ 10 times indoors and out from the 1,500 meters through 10,000. She holds three school records, and was fifth in the NCAA 3,000 indoors in 2012.
18. Shiloh Keo, football (2006-10): The Vandals didn’t turn a lot of heads with defense in his day, but that didn’t stop the flinty safety from twice being team MVP and an All-WAC player on UI’s Humanitarian Bowl champs of 2009. A four-year starter, he’s also in the record book a few times – including for a 100-yard punt return against Northern Illinois .
19. Kayla Montellaro, golf (2009-12): She broke Idaho’s scoring record her first year on campus, and by the time she left she’d won 10 tournaments, including the WAC championship twice. She never finished lower than third in that event, and was twice the conference Player of the Year before earning her LPGA Tour card her first year out of Idaho.
20. Janelle Lucas, diving (2016-19): The only athlete to win four straight WAC championships in platform diving, three of those coming by more than 30 points. Now here’s the hard part: Idaho doesn’t have a platform in its pool. Once a year, Lucas would head to Federal Way, Washington, for a few days of training at the aquatic center, and then maybe sneak some extra practice when possible at the Vandals’ road meets.
Ten more: Katja Schreiber, track and field (2000-01); Cole Snyder, football (2003-05); Mark Kovacs, tennis (2015-18); Allison Walker Baker, volleyball (2010-12); Taylor Pierce, women’s basketball (2016-19); Stephen Madison, men’s basketball (2011-14); Kaden Elliss, football (2015-18); Jared du Toit, golf (2014-15); Alyssa Charlston, women’s basketball (2011-14); Jeremy Klas, track and field (2010-13).
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