Club team searches for national championship

WSU wrestling comes into 2021-22 season with aspirations of gold following succesful 2019-20 season

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COURTESY OF PHIL BURNETT

WSU wrestling’s 2019 team poses for a team photo. The team featured 12 national qualifiers and an All-American.

TOM ABBOTT, Evergreen reporter

Cougar wrestling is one of the highest achieving teams on the Pullman campus, despite not receiving much recognition from students or WSU Athletics.

Currently, WSU wrestling competes in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association. The NCWA is made up of both scholarship and club teams from around the country. While competing in the NCWA, WSU is ranked as the No. 1 club wrestling team in the nation.

WSU wrestling’s mission statement reads, “​​Our mission is to be a sanctioned Pac-12 wrestling university within the next four years. In doing so, we will build the strongest men and women’s wrestling program that every dedicated wrestler-student athlete can call their home to further their education.”

Due to their current club designation, WSU wrestling does not share the funding benefits of other WSU Pac-12 recognized teams like football, soccer and baseball. Instead, the wrestling team depends on member donations and fundraising to pay for necessities such as uniforms, equipment and travel. Throughout the year, wrestling is set to host various fundraisers to continue raising money.

“We do all our own fundraising,” Head Coach Phil Burnett said. “This team has raised $40,000 this year, and we’re not done.”

Burnett has been volunteering to coach athletes at WSU for the past four years. This year is the first year that Burnett will be paid as a non-student employee, which is a big step toward becoming a full-fledged team instead of their current club designation.

“A D1 national title in the NCWA is our next goal,” Burnett said.

Burnett is the right coach to lead WSU wrestling towards a Division-I NCWA title, showing extreme dedication to the program by making the trip from Auburn, Washington, every season and sacrificing the comfort of his home to coach. Before coming to coach at WSU, Burnett was a high school wrestling coach for 11 years and started multiple programs for kids interested in the sport.

James Cox, president of WSU wrestling and men’s captain, is currently a junior from Burlington, Washington. Cox, like many on the team, wrestled in high school and was drawn to the sport by the will of young individuals to improve themselves. Cox highlighted how wrestling has aided in his self-confidence, allowing him to be the best person he can be.

“Everyone is here for the love of the sport and for each other,” Cox said. “This team is really like a family.”

This year, WSU wrestling has expanded to include a women’s wrestling team. Adding a women’s team is yet another way that WSU wrestling is making strides toward becoming recognized as a Pac-12 sanctioned team.

Mackenna Buhl is the current women’s captain and manager of the team. Currently a junior, Buhl began doing managerial work during her freshman year. Like Cox, Buhl wrestled in high school to help maintain her mental health.

“Our goal is to try and get the very first Pac-12 officiated WSU wrestling team for men’s and women’s wrestling,” Buhl said. “We’ve been doing the club since 2012-13 and since then, we have just kept growing. However long it takes if I’m the start and the foundation, that’s all that matters.” 

This year, WSU wrestling has 50 athletes, one of the largest memberships for a club team on campus. The large team environment helps to create a strong sense of family among the athletes, encouraging each other to excel in the sport.

“I’ve met a lot of great people on the team,” senior Cade Stevenson said. “We get to travel around and compete which keeps me busy. It’s definitely something that I look back on and am glad that I did it.”

The team is set to fly three times this season. The first trip will be to Northern California at the end of October featuring an invite-only tournament with the best wrestling teams on the West Coast. The team then will travel to Phoenix, Arizona, for the men’s NCWA regional finals and NCWA women’s national duals.

The team will end their season with a trip to Allen, Texas, for the national finals in March.

WSU wrestling kicks off the 2021-22 season at 6 p.m. Oct. 15 at the University Recreation Center with the Crimson and Gray Dual Meet.