Cougar club wrestling on the rise

Team continues its years of success by sending 12 wrestlers to national tournament this weekend

Luke Walker

As the WSU wrestling club sends 12 wrestlers to compete in the 2020 National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) National Championships, the coach and many of the members reflect how far the program has come within the last decade.

After the program was dropped in 1986, WSU alumnus Brett T. Johnson began reinstituting the WSU wrestling club in spring of 2012, according to their website.

“My dad wrestled here when he was a student,” senior Tucker Hanson said. “It’s great to be able to be part of the same program he was involved with as a student.”

Head coach Phil Burnett took over in 2016 after being an assistant coach. Burnett said he lives on the west side of Washington but stays in Pullman during the wrestling season. The season starts in October for the club and ends the following March.

“I’m blessed to be in the position to do what I do with these guys,” Burnett said.

When Burnett took over, WSU was a Division-2 NCWA team. NCWA divisions are determined by the size of the program. D2 schools are smaller programs than Division-1 programs.

The club competed in its first full year in the 2013-2014 season. That season, they became the 2014 NCWA Northwestern Conference Champions, according to the WSU wrestling website.

The club also had seven national qualifiers and two all-American wrestlers, Johnson being one of them. Wrestlers need to place in the top 10 of 64-man brackets in the NCWA National Championship in order to become an All-American wrestler.

After becoming the D2 NCWA National Champions and having two more All-Americans the following season, the club became a D1 NCWA program for the 2015-2016 season.

The program placed second for the NCWA Northwestern D1 Conference for three consecutive years, took third in the year following, and then second again in the last two years. During that time, the team had qualifiers for the NWCA National Championships every year.

Now, the varsity club program is working to expand wrestling on the college level. The Pac-12 consists of six NCAA wrestling teams: Oregon State University, Arizona State University, California State University, Little Rock University, California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University.

The WSU wrestling club falls under the NCWA, a wrestling conference for college club-level teams. There are no NCAA wrestling teams in Washington state.

The club will compete in the 2020 NCWA National Championships Thursday through Saturday at the Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas.

The wrestlers competing will include Hanson, senior Cameron Bennett, junior Joseph Lewis, senior Demetrious Koures, freshman James Cox, junior Cameron Dubos, sophomore Cade Stevenson, junior Dalton Varney, junior David Woo, freshman Koa Ostos, junior Nic Carbone and sophomore Ryan Harris.

Wrestling in the NCWA does not mean there is not competition, according to the team.

“We’re seeing three, four-time state champions at this national tournament,” Bennett said. “I’ve never seen that kind of competition.”

Bennett qualified for the national tournament at the Northwestern Conference tournament in the 149-pound weight class.

“You’re going against the best,” Lewis said.

Lewis placed third at the same tournament in the 141-pound weight class to qualify for nationals.

Many of these wrestlers go on to wrestle in D1 and D2 schools, Koures said. He will be competing in the 133-pound class.

Aside from competing, the club has taken other measures to distinguish and improve the program.

 “We would like to build a women’s team,” Burnett said. “We’re trying to start a scholarship program too.”

Lewis said they are one family that shares a common goal. They are friends outside of the wrestling room, he said.

“This has been one of the best experiences I’ve had wrestling any year. I’ve wrestled 18 years,” Koures said.

Burnett said the club this year started off with 35 wrestlers. Due to injuries and members graduating last winter, the program currently has 20 members.

Incoming students are starting to look at the program, Burnett said. They want to continue their wrestling career here, and these are statewide high school placers.

The wrestling team practices Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7-9 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-10:30 p.m. in the Physical Education Building.

Burnett said Tuesdays and Thursdays are late nights and that is the only time the wrestling room is available on those days. He said the guys are still dedicated to the program and will be in there breaking a sweat.

Koures said wrestling has taught him discipline.

“Wrestling has taught me work ethic. You’re not going to get anywhere by just showing up, especially in this sport,” Bennett said.

That dedication will be tested this weekend as the Cougars compete in the 2020 NCWA National Championships Thursday through Saturday at the Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas.