Alumni Athletes Possess Next-Level Thinking

Alumni Athletes Possess Next-Level Thinking

Pretty much everyone in the CWU community has heard of Jon Kitna. The former Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions quarterback is among the most notable Wildcat athletes to have ever competed at the professional level.

Other Central alumni athletes have made names for themselves in the professional ranks—Major League Baseball players Billy North and Dave Heaverlo, and Canadian Football League stars Mike Reilly and Adam Bighill, to name a few.

By and large, the CWU athletes who end up competing after college aren’t as recognizable to the general public. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been successful.

Sam Bowman high res 1

Samantha Bowman ('23).

“We always talk to our athletes about taking your playing career as far as you possibly can,” Athletic Director Dennis Francois said. “Only a small number truly make a living playing professional sports, so we constantly remind them that the most important thing they can do is finish their degree.”

Francois explained that his coaches do a good job of helping their athletes remain realistic about their chances of making it big.

“We never want to crush their dreams of playing at the next level, but we also try to keep it in perspective,” he said. “For us, it all comes down to getting that education. The more we can prepare them for life after sports, the better off they’re going to be.”

Francois noted that most CWU alumni athletes who become pros leave Ellensburg with their degree in hand. Earning that piece of paper guarantees them a path forward in case their pro sports aspirations don’t pan out like they imagined.

“We definitely encourage our athletes to keep going, but we also remind them that they are one injury away from never playing at that level ever again,” he said. “Earning a degree givesthem a safety net that they can fall back on, no matter what happens with their pro careers.”

One of CWU’s most successful athletes of all time, Samantha Bowman (’23), got on a plane to Australia two weeks after her senior season to pursue her dream of playing professional basketball.

Recent alumni athletes in the pros

Samantha Bowman, Basketball

Marqus Gilson, Basketball

Reilly Hennessey, Football

Tia Andaya, Volleyball

Keia Mae Sagapolu Sanele, Rugby

Alex Mackenzie, Rugby

The 2022-23 Division II National Player of the Year hopes to take her career as far as she possibly can, but when the day comes to finally hang it up, Bowman will be armed with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition.

“Sam was a real standout and she could keep playing for a number of years,” Francois said. “But she is also very grounded and humble. She knows that she will have a bright future, regardless of how far she goes as a basketball player.”

A growing number of CWU athletes are finding opportunities to play after college, including two of Bowman’s
former teammates, Alexis Pana and Kassidy Malcolm. Recent men’s basketball stars Marqus Gilson, Xavier Tillman, and Gamaun Boykin are also playing at the next level, along with CWU volleyball standout Tia Andaya, who recently signed a pro contract in Albania.

Francois also pointed to six Wildcats drafted by Major League Rugby since 2021, plus their female counterparts playing professionally overseas. That list includes 2023 National Player of the Year Keia Mae Sagapolu Sanele, who is now playing in the Women’s Rugby Premiership in England.

“Having so many high-profile athletes coming out of Central gives our current players something to strive for,” Francois said. “Their success shows others what’s possible. That’s especially true for our underrepresented athletes. When they see people who look like them finding success at the next level, they can dream big and say to themselves, ‘I can be that, too.’”

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