Why Washington is a hotbed for international athletes

WSU and professional leagues alike boast a long history of international athletes 



WSU volleyball players high-five fans after sweeping UW, Nov. 25.

BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor

Washington is one of the most beautiful states in the U.S. However, in the sphere of professional and collegiate sports, it has been building a reputation for being a place where international athletes can come to thrive.

Whether at WSU and being a Coug or playing professionally for the countless teams that Seattle hosts, many players from outside of the country have come to Washington and seen tremendous success.

Other than with Wazzu, the Seattle Mariners have seen the most success and have been the most prominent with international players.

First off, looking at WSU, nearly every program boasts a diverse set of players. Volleyball is one of the most prominent of which, as several of the best players in program history are currently playing on the team and are not from the U.S.

Magda Jehlarova, Pia Timmer, Argentina Ung and Weronika Wojdyla are just some names in the long list of international athletes that have come through the program over the years. Even the most recent addition to the team, Iman Isanovic, while transferring from another Pac-12 school, was originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The reason these athletes chose WSU is simple. The key to recruiting players to Wazzu is selling the idea of family, said Burdette Greeny, associate head coach and recruiting coordinator of WSU volleyball.

“I personally think that the family unit is stronger in Europe than it is in the U.S. and I sell the family aspect of WSU to the players and their families,” Greeny said.

It is not just volleyball where WSU sees immense success with international athletes. Eight of the nine players on the 2023 tennis roster come from different countries.

Hania Abouelsaad is from Egypt, Eva Alvarez Sande from Spain, Fifa Kumhom from Thailand, Yang Lee from Taiwan, Stefaniia Mikhailova from Russia, Yura Nakagawa from Japan, Elyse Tse from New Zealand, and finally, Maxine Murphy and Tiffany Phout are both from the U.S.

Both women’s and men’s basketball are other programs that have successfully recruited new international athletes year in and year out.

The most recent big example for the men’s team is the 2023 signing of Rueben Chinyelu. Chinyelu, a four-star recruit from Nigeria, is a player at the NBA Academy Africa and chose the Cougs over several other Power Five Conference teams.

His reasoning was simple: WSU has seen success in previous seasons with overseas talent and he wanted to continue that on and go to the school where he could improve the most.

“Washington State stood out with its style of play and the experience the coaching staff has with African and international players. Playing college basketball with and against other dedicated players who want to win, are hungry and have a big vision for their future and aspire to be the best is something that I’m looking forward to,” Chinyelu said to ESPN.

On the west side of the state, the Seattle Mariners have a long history of international success. The big names immediately come to mind are Ichiro Suzuki, Edgar Martinez, Félix Hernández and, most recently, Julio Rodríquez.

Even before Ichiro joined the Mariners, the team had signed another Japanese player that would significantly impact the team. The Mariners first signed Kazuhiro Sasaki, who became one of the best closers in team history and won the Rookie of the Year in 2000.

But the big names previously mentioned are great examples of the team’s culture. Ichiro played in Seattle for over a decade and despite playing several years in different cities, he returned and ended his career in the PNW and helped coach the team after retirement.

Hernández is another perfect example. Seattle scouted him since he was 14 years old and kept in touch with him after that initial encounter. When the team signed him, they were not the team even offering him the most money, as the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees both offered him more, according to Stark Raving Sports.

Seattle was the destination chosen due to the team’s loyalty from when they first scouted him in his youth, showing that the team is committed to the players they want on their roster.

They continue to be a top team in the international market yearly, as they signed the second-rated international prospect, Felnin Celesten, from the Dominican Republic. Overall, they signed seven players with two being in the top 50 in the class, according to MLB.

Both WSU and the Mariners, as well as all other athletic programs in Washington, have a common theme that leads to international athletes choosing them. They all show commitment to the idea of family and loyalty that other states simply cannot compete with.