Now I meant every word I said on my post about Eastern Washington. They are not only one of the best collegiate programs the state of Washington ever had, they’re one of the best NAIA programs period. Yet, you know who was even better? Central Washington.
The Orcas formally known as the Wildcats, won about every Evergreen Conference championship in wrestling their was to win. They finished in the top ten at the NAIA tournament on nineteen occasions, seven of those times in the top four & they won two NAIA team titles.
Like EWU, CWU was forced to move up to NCAA Division II. While they continued to have success it was not near to the level that they had in NAIA. Unfortunately the Orcas formally known as the Wildcats dropped their program after the 2004-2005 season leaving what was once a state that flourished in collegiate wrestling with nothing more than a few NJCAA teams.
When it came to picking out an All Star team, I had a Hell of a time trying to narrow it down to one per weight. I couldn’t for some weights. There’s just too much talent and I left off enough guys as it is.
Here is my list….
A phenomenal technician from his feet, Kenichi Kannon took third at the 1970 NAIA championships before winning a NAIA title in 1971. That season, he scored 51 takedowns. Post college Kannon became the head coach at Hoquian Junior high. One of the members of his team was was the late lead singer of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain. Kannon who also taught Art, was one of the first to encourage Cobain in his creativity.
Another great lightweight for the Orcas formally known as the Wildcats was Bill Hoglund. Before coming to CWU, Hoglund won a Washington State title for Sumner High school. He would win the 1982 NAIA title.
Ford won the 1984 NAIA title and later became the head coach of the team.
Moving up to 126 lbs, one would have to include Robin McApline who finished as the 1983 NAIA runner up before winning a title in 1984.
Another great for the Orcas formally known as the Wildcats came all the way from Illinois. Lenal Brinson won a state title for Bloom Trail High school in the Chicago Heights area. He would win the 1987 NAIA title for CWU.
Although he never won an NAIA title I had to include Leighton Smiley because not only is he the only four time NAIA All American in Central Washington wrestling, he’s the only four time NAIA All American at Central Washington period. During his career he finished fifth, third, second, third at the NAIA tournament.
Moving up to 134 lbs, the choice here was pretty clear. Craig Skeesick. Skeesick would win the NAIA title in 1971 and then finish as the runner-up in 1972. He later became the head coach at Moses Lake High School.
Arguably the best wrestler during CWU’s time in NCAA Division II, Shane Jaime was a two time All American capturing third place at both the 2000 & 2003 NCAA DII tournaments. He later coached at Cumberland and helped coach fighters for UFC events.
Another in the 140’s category is two time NAIA champion Dennis Warren who won titles in 1966 and 1967.
Another great in the 140’s was Thurman Landers who won an NAIA title in 1970. He’d later go on to coach at various high schools in the state that included Eisenhower and Interlake.
As good as Kit Shaw was, if it wasn’t for a nasty injury, he would’ve been even better. Shaw wasn’t even aware of what amateur wrestling was. It wasn’t something he had ever seen. Yet it was what they were going over in P.E. and seeing skill in the young seventh grader, the P.E. teacher suggested to Shaw that it might be something he’d excel at. He did. Winning a state title for Sunnyside High School, Shaw would make an immediate impact at CWU winning NAIA titles in 1973 and 1974. He was named the Outstanding wrestler of the 1974 tournament. He would later come back to coach at Sunnyside.
A 1978 NAIA champion, Sanford taught and coached wrestling in the state post his collegiate career. He also worked for a amount of time as a professional rodeo clown.
With the vast amount of talent that Central Washington produced it’s not easy trying to decipher who was the very best. If I had to pick one, I’d go with Lamoin Merkley who won NAIA titles for the Orcas formally known as the Wildcats in 1966, 1967 & 1968. Seeing how NAIA champs could participate in the NCAA Division I tournament back in those days, Merkley also took runner-up honors at the DI tournament in 1968.
For his accomplishments on the mat, he was featured in an issue of Sports Illustrated in 1968. He later went on to become the head coach of the Marine Corps.
Along with Jaime, another standout for the Orcas formally known as the Wildcats upon their transition to NCAA Division II was Matt Ballard. He finished as the NCAA DII runner up in 2001.
Isley finished in second place at the 1974 NAIA championships.
Another standout in CWU wrestling history was Mike Wilson, who finished as the 1979 NAIA runner-up.
Believe it or not with as many as I did include, their are a lot more than I could have. It was an absolute travesty when Central Washington lost their wrestling team fifteen years ago.
Along with Washington, Washington State, Eastern Washington and other programs in the state it was clear to see that when Washington high school wrestlers had a home college/university to go to, they did. It’s also clear to see that many of them gave back to the sport by becoming coaches at high schools within the state.