Campus Connection: Ross Cutter and Paul Merkel

Ross Cutter  

Whitworth athletics has had more ups and downs than a monitor displaying a healthy heartbeat — from a national championship in 1960 and 45 Northwest Conference titles in just the last 10 years, to almost being dropped from all sports competition in their conference almost 50 years ago.

Notable among the history of Whitworth athletics are Ross Cutter and Paul Merkel, both of whom coached at Whitworth.

Cutter first got a job as a physical education professor at Whitworth College in 1958, and then found himself coaching tennis for the Pirates in his second year with the school.

“I just kind of fell into the job,” Cutter said.

The dean at the time was Alvin Quall, who was also the coach of the tennis team in 1958. Quall, having a significant amount of responsibility on campus already, told Cutter he would coach the team beginning the next year.

“This was the middle of my first year,” Cutter said. “I’m not going to say I won’t.”

So, the Cal-Berkeley grad took over the Whitworth tennis program in 1959. Although he claims not to have had a tennis background fit for coaching, Cutter saw great success in his first few years as its head, which included a couple of tennis players making it into national semifinal spotlight. The tennis team also had victories over big-name schools such as Oregon State and Washington State, and gave the University of Washington a healthy scare in a dangerously close 4-3 loss, he said.

“There were just some great players when I got the job,” Cutter said.

Cutter continued to coach for more than 30 years, instilling team-building traditions such as inviting a campus figure, such as well-known professors or administrators, to handle the ceremonial opening of the game balls with a few words of encouragement before a home match, or urging his players to take their opponents to Graves Gym for a soda after their match, no matter how hard-fought or heated the match may have been.

The team’s success drew a huge part of the student body to matches, especially their barn-burner at home against the University of Washington, Cutter said. Each one of the team-building activities all the way up to the success that Cutter brought to this program, played a small part in bringing the Whitworth community closer together, he said. Whitworth’s Cutter Tennis Courts are named in honor of Cutter’s contributions to the school.


Merkel Field was named after former Whitworth student-athlete and coach Paul Merkel. The baseball field was renovated this past off-season. Merkel’s name is displayed on the outfield scoreboard. Keely Cooper | File Photo


Paul Merkel


Paul Merkel was the coach of Whitworth’s first and only national championship team. Merkel lettered 11 times in football, basketball, baseball and tennis while earning two degrees at Whitworth. Beginning in 1955, Merkel coached Whitworth baseball and played other major roles for Whitworth until his retirement in 1990, according to The Spokesman-Review.

It wasn’t until the 1972 season that Pirate baseball joined the Northwest Conference. Merkel saw the program he formerly coached win a total of five NWC championships in the program’s first 12 years in the conference. That record was bested only by Linfield’s eight consecutive titles from 1959 to 1966, the longest such streak in 85 years of Northwest Conference baseball, according to the Northwest Conference website archives.

On top of his accomplishments with the baseball team, Merkel’s significant work behind the scenes  ensured that Whitworth would continue to have an athletic program. When the school was still a part of the Evergreen Conference in the 1960s, Pirate athletics were about to be dropped from all sports competition due to failure in reaching the minimum number of sports needed to stay in the conference, according to The Spokesman-Review.

Merkel, Whitworth’s athletic director at the time, decided the school would form a swim team to save athletics. Merkel put a swim team in place and coached it himself, on top of being a large part of the baseball program as well as the athletic director. Merkel died Aug. 24, 2002 at the age of 80.

Though his time at Whitworth has come and gone, his name remains a part of Whitworth athletics. Whitworth’s baseball field is named Merkel Field in remembrance of Merkel’s services to the university.

Korey Hope Staff Writer

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Decade of Dominance: Pirate Swimming

Eleven consecutive men’s Northwest Conference swimming titles, five of the past seven women’s NWC swimming titles, 14 years without a loss in men’s conference dual meets until this year and 44 straight women’s dual conference meet wins. That is only a snapshot of the Whitworth swim team’s success in the past decade. The Whitworth swim program has been dominant under the direction of head coach Steve Schadt as well as assistant coaches Gary Kessie and Whitney Kessie. Whitney Kessie has been on staff for five years, Gary Kessie for nine years, and Schadt is the veteran with 10 years spent coaching at Whitworth. All three coaches participated in the program as swimmers during their undergraduate careers at Whitworth.

During his time as a swimmer for Whitworth, Schadt contributed to the swim team which earned second place in the NAIA Swimming and Diving Championships. After graduating, Schadt was an assistant coach for swim teams at the University of California, Berkeley, and American University before becoming head coach at Salem International University. Upon his completion of four years at SIU, Schadt returned to Whitworth to coach at his alma mater.

“It’s allowed me to be more empathetic,” Schadt said. “Being an alum of Whitworth, you’re able to walk a mile in the swimmers’ shoes. You have a little more intimate knowledge of what the real challenges are because you did it.”

Whitworth swimming competed at the Husky Invitational last November. The Bucs claimed both the men’s and women’s NWC swimming titles this past year.  Michael Locatell | File Photo

Schadt coached the team through an especially successful season this year. Although the men’s team lost its first dual meet in 14 years, they broke the all-time record for consecutive conference championships, winning for the 11th year in a row. The women’s team brought their winning streak to 44 dual meets in a row, going undefeated in conference for the sixth year in a row.

Two of Whitworth’s current swimmers, junior Aaron Vaccaro and sophomore Alisa Stang have rapidly achieved success in their few years swimming at Whitworth.

“The thing that is still keeping me swimming is my relationship with my coaches,” Vaccaro said. “Gary and Steve are like family to me. That absolutely makes it worth it, just having that relationship.”

Vaccaro has been setting records at Whitworth since his first season on the team. He holds records in four events, including the 100-free. As a freshman in the 2010-11 season, Vaccaro set records in three events.

Stang also began setting records her freshman year, with the best times in the 50 and 100 free. Stang holds three records for this year: the 50 free, the 100 free and the 100 fly.

“[The coaches] really do believe in every single one of us,” Stang said. “We want to swim well for our coaches. It inspires us.”

While swimming can sometimes be viewed as an individual sport, Whitworth swimmers argue that every swimmer’s dedication and achievement is essential to the success of the team as a whole.

“Every person has to be successful for the whole team to be successful,” Vaccaro said. “Even without gold medal winners, we have a team that can dominate as a whole because of our depth.”

Both teams worked collaboratively to contribute to dual conference meet wins by margins of often more than 100 points this season.

“Your swim counts for more than just you,” Stang said. “That makes a big difference knowing that I’m having a big impact on how the team is doing.”

Swimmers like Stang and Vaccaro are trained through an individual, tri-faceted program run by the three coaches. The program is split into sprinters coached by Gary Kessie, mid-distance coached by Schadt and distance coached by Whitney Kessie.

“We can give a little bit more individualized training within the group,” Gary Kessie said. “It’s allowed us to push to that next level because each athlete is given what they need.”

Athletes are placed in these three groups based on the events they choose to focus on, Schadt says.

“If you want to serve everybody well, you can’t do a cookie-cutter program,” Schadt said. “You have to get pretty individualized and that’s what we do. [The swimmers] all have different needs.”

Swimmers have the freedom to switch to other programs and experiment with their strengths and skills.

“I’m switching to sprint group next year because I realized the events that I want to focus on,” Stang said. “That’s what’s nice about our program; it allows us to specialize in what we’re best at.”

These individualized programs are evidence of the technical methods for success. However, swimmers emphasize the importance of the family aspect of being part of Whitworth’s swim team.

“The most important part of my season this year was building relationships, being part of the team, being there day-in and day-out,” Vaccaro said.

Coaches attribute the team’s long-standing success to the swimmers themselves.

“[It] just comes from the dedicated athletes,” Gary Kessie said. “Everything that [they] do is perfect, as far as stroke technique and being a studious person in the classroom. Everything that we do is geared towards being a better person and being a better athlete.”

Looking ahead to future years, the team is shooting for more than only success within the conference, but also recognition in a national context.

“I’d like to see us making a bigger impact at NCAA’s and the national level,” Schadt said. “Obviously I’d like to keep the conference streak going with winning more conference championships, but I hope to see it get more competitive.”

The Whitworth swim team is currently in the off-season, and swimmers spend the time training on their own or resting before gearing up for the start of the 2013-14 season next fall.

Miranda Cloyd Staff Writer Contact Miranda Cloyd at

Duvall posts highest Pirate finish at UW

The Whitworth women’s swimming team put up a strong performance at the Husky Invitational last weekend in Federal Way, Wash. The meet hosted over 1,000 swimmers and saw several Pirates produce season-best times in a number of different events. The annual three-day meet hosted by the University of Washington contained arguably the toughest competition the Pirates will face all year, including Oregon State, University of Calgary, Grand Canyon University and Simon Fraser University. Prior to the meet, the women had finished first in all of their meets this year.

Head coach Steve Schadt knew this weekend had a high chance of changing that, and saw many positive aspects of this competition.

“When you face stiff competition, it raises your level of swimming,” Schadt said. “Meets like this are really valuable.”

Schadt had quite a bit of evidence to support his case. In many races Pirate swimmers swam to new personal or lifelong-best times. Junior Kate Duvall posted the highest individual finish all weekend for the Pirates, with a 14th place finish in the “B” final of the 200-yard backstroke. Her time of 2:06.30 beat her personal record by four seconds.

“Racing against fast swimmers really does push you to swim faster,” Duvall said. “And that was higher competition than we have seen all season.”

The women’s relay teams also swam well, posting 24th and 26th finishes on day one, followed by 19th and 25th place finishes on day two. Sophomores Samantha Smith and Alisa Stang raced with most of these relay teams, as well as setting personal season records in individual events. Stang finished 28th in the 50-yard freestyle with a season-best time of 24.41. Smith set personal season records in the 200-yard butterfly (2:13.30) and 200-yard individual medley (2:12.97).

Another Pirate that fought her way into a final was senior Abby Pavelko. She managed a 31st place finish in the 1,650-yard freestyle with a time of 18:19.42, a personal best. Equalling nearly a mile, this event was the weekend’s longest distance.

Freshman Bridget Louis finished just behind Pavelko in 32nd, shaving 12 seconds off her own personal best mark.

“I approached swimming differently this year than I have in the past,” Pavelko said. “My attitude has just been more positive.”

The swimmers won’t be competing again until the second week of January, but Schadt already knows this meet will help them in future meets.

“This meet forced us to swim fast and we did,” Schadt said. “If I had to grade it, I would definitely give it an ‘A’, they really did a nice job.”

The next meet for the Bucs will be a dual meet at Seattle University Jan. 12.

Korey Hope Staff Writer

Contact Korey Hope at


Bucs battle tough competition at Husky Invitational

Men’s relay performances highlight three-day meet in Federal Way, Wash. Last weekend Whitworth men’s swim team competed at the 64th annual Husky Invitational in Federal Way, Wash. against 13 collegiate teams and several club teams. Whitworth faced stiff competition from teams including Grand Canyon University and University of British Columbia.

Whitworth’s relay teams posted season-best times in each race of the weekend.

“We hold ourselves to a high standard and to be a part of that you have to learn that when you get up on the blocks it’s not just about you anymore,” freshman Kyle Wicks said. “When you get up for a relay, everyone just performs that much better because they know their teammates are relying on them.”

The Bucs’ best finish in a relay was tenth-place in the 200 medley with Wicks, junior Aaron Vaccaro, and sophomores Wes Tatum and Callum MacKintosh swimming a time of 1:35.64.

Vaccaro, Wicks, Tatum and MacKintosh also finished 16th in the 400 medley with a time of 3:33.35.

Sophomore Jason Lemley joined Vaccaro, Wicks and MacKintosh in the 200 freestyle to post a 1:26.87 time and finish 12th right behind Whitman (1:26.79).

“We’ve got a pretty cohesive group and because of our depth we have a lot of options for the relays,” Vaccaro said. “We’ve been exercising a lot of different options and I think we’ve been finding some combinations that really work.”

The Pirates’ success continued on Saturday and Sunday in the 400 and 800 freestyle relays. Juniors Mitchell Beck, Luke Welle and Matt Brody, along with senior Nathan Ranno, finished 11th in the 800 free with a time of 7:02.85. Whitworth took 18th in the 400 free relay with a time of 3:14.01 from Vaccaro, Ranno, and juniors Andrew Sumnicht and Matthew Dangleis.

Whitworth qualified for three final swims on Saturday night. In the 100 butterfly, Vaccaro placed 24th in the C-final with 51.34 and Tatum finished 26th in the D-final with a time of 51.98. Vaccaro also qualified for the 100 backstroke and took 29th with a 53.23 finish, a lifetime-best by a couple seconds.

“We had probably 90 percent season-bests and a good number of lifetime-bests and we’re still kind of in training mode,” head coach Steve Schadt said. “I feel like our team raised their game and really went after it.”

Other season-bests included Beck’s 4:47.03 finish in the 500 freestyle and Sumnicht’s 1:58.47 finish in the 200 individual medley.

The Pirates also raced against Northwest Conference members Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound, who they will swim against later this season.

“There’s a lot of good competition and it’s going to come down to the wire,” Wicks said. “It’s a lot of fun because it pushes you to your limits.”

The team is already thinking of how this big meet is preparing them for the rest of the season and Schadt is confident that the fierce competition will help push the Pirates to perform well at the national level.

“The times that we swam really sets us up well, and once we’re really on top of our game in conference we should definitely win,” Vaccaro said.

Whitworth’s next meet will be Jan. 12 against Seattle University.

Megan John Staff Writer

Contact Megan John at

Men’s swimming competes at Northwest Invitational

Whitworth men’s swimming took second in the Northwest Invitational against Whitman University, Pacific University and the College of Idaho.

Sophomore Jason Lemley, freshman Kyle Wicks, junior Aaron Vaccaro and sophomore Callum MacKintosh finished first in the 200 medley relay with a time of 1:37.97 to begin the meet on Nov. 17.

Vaccaro also finished first in the 100 backstroke with a time of 53.86.

The Pirates’ biggest competition of the day was Whitman, who finished first in the other 12 races. Whitworth stayed close behind with several second-place finishes, including a tight freestyle race that ended with a second-place finish for Vaccaro at 22.33 and third place finish for MacKintosh at 22.40.

Whitman had a final score of 210, followed by Whitworth with 182 points, Pacific with 113 points and College of Idaho with 56.

Whitworth’s next meet will be on Nov. 30 at the Husky Invitational in Federal Way, Washington.

Megan John Staff Writer

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Basketball gives tough test to Idaho State The Division I Idaho State Bengals defeated the Division III Whitworth men’s basketball team on Nov. 6 after a back-and-forth game.

The Bengals led the Pirates after the first half 40-35, and for much of the second half.  However, Whitworth rallied and junior guard Dustin McConnell’s three-point attempt at the end of the end of regulation bounced off the back iron to give Idaho State a 68-65 win over Whitworth.

McConnell and freshman guard George Valle led the Pirates, scoring 15 points each.  McConnell also added five rebounds.  Sophomore forward Taylor Farnsworth also contributed 12 points and 5 rebounds for the Pirates.

The Pirates will play next against the University of St. Thomas, at the Whitworth Fieldhouse on Nov. 17.

Swimming continues hot start to season

Both the Whitworth men’s and women’s swim teams remain undefeated after winning their first four meets.

The Pirates won every event Nov. 2 against Willamette. Sophomore Samantha Smith led the Pirates, winning two events with a time of 1:00.14 in the 100-yard butterfly and 1:08.60 in in the 100-yard breaststroke.

The men had two double event winners in  Aaron Vaccaro, who won the the 50 free in 22.18 and the 100 butterfly in 52.31, and  Mitchell Beck, who won the the 200 freestyle in 1:47.56 and the 100 freestyle in 49.60.

Nov. 3 matched up the Bucs against Linfield at home. The men won all 10 races and the women won 10 of the 11 races.

Nov. 9, the Pirates faced Pacific University on the road. Freshman Kori Carpenter won both the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:58.43 and the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 55.31.

The next day the Bucs faced Lewis & Clark, also on the road.  Smith got the fastest time in the 200-yard butterfly so far this season, winning it in 2:15.19. The men won eight out of the 11 events.  Vaccaro  dominated again, swimming in the relay as well as winning the 50-yard freestyle in 22.12 and the 100-yard backstroke in 54.73.

The Pirates are now 4-0. Their next race is the Northwest Invitational on Nov. 17 at Whitman College.

Football ends season on high note

On a biting Nov. 10 afternoon at the Pine Bowl, the Whitworth football team put up more than 500 yards of offense to take down the Pioneers of Lewis & Clark 37- 20 in their final game of the 2012 season.

Junior running back DJ Tripoli had a 19-yard run into the end zone to give the Bucs the early lead.

Senior running back and team captain Ronnie Thomas exploded in the second half for the Bucs. He carried the ball across the goal line for the 11th and 12th times this season in the third and fourth quarters to give Whitworth a 23-12 lead. Less than a minute after Thomas’ second touchdown, sophomore defensive back De’ Hall intercepted a Lewis & Clark pass and ran it back 65 yards to put another seven on the board for Whitworth.

Thomas finished the game with 251 yards rushing   and three touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Bryan Peterson threw for 159 yards on the day and rushed for nearly 100. Senior linebacker and team captain Scott Carr led the defense with seven tackles.

Whitworth (7-3 overall, 3-3 NWC) finishes the season fourth in the NWC.

Whitworthian Sports Staff

Whitworth swimming starts season strong

Coming off of a 2011-2012 in which the men took home their tenth consecutive Northwest Conference title, and the women accomplished their fifth consecutive top-two finish, the Whitworth swim team is back in action in 2012-2013. The season got off to a great start the last weekend in October at the Northwest Conference Invitational in Portland, Ore. The Bucs dominated the relays, taking first place in nine of the 15. The women’s team won relays in the 300-yard breaststroke, 600 and 900-yard freestyle, and the sprint pentathlon. The men won the 300-yard breaststroke, 600 and 900-yard freestyle relays as well, in addition to the 300-yard butterfly.

The women took a dominant first overall. Sophomore Samantha Smith led the women and finished first overall in the meet. Four of the top five individual female finishers were Pirates. Sophomore Nicole Lecoq finished in second place, sophomore Alisa Stang in third, and freshman Hannah Norris finished in fifth.

On the men’s side, Whitworth finished second, after being edged out by Whitman. Junior Aaron Vaccaro finished second for the men and sophomore Callum McIntosh finished sixth.

Last weekend, Whitworth won a pair of NWC dual meets on Friday night against Willamette and on Saturday against Linfield.

On Friday, the Whitworth women took first in all nine individual events, with eight different swimmers contributing. Vaccaro placed first in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly for the men. Junior Mitchell Beck also won two events for the Bucs in the 100 and 200-yard freestyle races.

The Whitworth freshman represented well as Norris, Kori Carpenter, Bridget Louis, and Kyle Wicks all had first place finishes on the night.

The Pirates dominated the pool again on Saturday with routing victories over Linfield. Three women were double-event winners for Whitworth.  Louis took first in the 1000 and 500-yard freestyle races and Stang in the 200 and 100-yard freestyle races. Smith also earned two individual victories in the 200-yard individual medley and the 200-yard butterfly, separated by only 20 minutes.

The Whitworth men took first place in all nine individual events, with 1-2-3 finishes in seven of those. The men also won the 400-yard medley and the 400-yard freestyle relays.

Next week, the Pirates head back to Oregon to take on Pacific Friday night and Lewis & Clark on Saturday.

Sena Hughes Staff Writer

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