One might assume Yvonne Kunze’s dreams sound something like this:
Kunze faengt den ball, schiesst, trifft, und die Cougars gewinnen das spiel sehr knapp!
Not so, said the Washington State University women’s basketball player, her German accent slipping into each syllable. Thinking in English came as quickly to Kunze as learning her way around downtown Pullman.
“For me, it was my freshman year. I started dreaming in English,” recalled Kunze, now a senior. “One night, my roommate woke me up and said, ‘I could just hear what you were saying in your sleep. I think you’re dreaming in English now.”’
With that in mind, one should assume Kunze’s dreams sound something like this:
Kunze gets the ball, shoots, scores and the Cougars win the game in the final seconds!
Yes, November is the time for Kunze and the Cougars to dream, be it in German, English or the universal language of positive thinking.
The team is coming off an injury-plagued 10-17 season, this, after an encouraging 5-2 start. Its 4-14 Pacific-10 Conference record allowed Washington State to beat out Arizona State (3-15) and Cal (2-16) in the standings.
This season the Pac-10 Conference coaches and media picked the Cougars to finish last. Not surprising, since lower-division finishes have become the norm. Their last good year was fourth place and an NCAA Tournament bid in 1990-91. That was four years before Kunze arrived.
In Kunze’s three seasons, the Cougars finished sixth her freshman and sophomore years and eighth her junior year.
“Last year was obviously the injuries,” Kunze said of the Cougars’ struggles. “They tried to play me on the inside, but it was hard because other teams double-teamed me. The inside wasn’t open at all.”
At 6-foot-4, Kunze will stay in the post position. However, help has arrived, and she’s come in a familiar package.
But for now, this player - 6-4 Alke Dietel - still dreams in German.
“They’re calling us the German Twin Towers,” said Dietel, speaking in slow, deliberate sentences. “Somebody in Pullman called us that. Nobody in Germany knows we play on the same team.”
But much like he did with Kunze, Washington State coach Harold Rhodes worked his foreign connections and came away with Dietel, a slender forward from Halle, a city formerly governed by East Germany.
Although Kunze grew up in West Berlin, the two played against each other as young girls. Since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, they joined together and played on the German Junior National team. Both are 22 years old.
This past summer, Kunze was a member of the German National team, the host of next summer’s World Championships. Dietel had a tryout, but did not make the final cut. She hopes the coaches take another look next year.
Division I competition can only help her as the Cougars prepare for their Nov. 21 opener against Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colo. Their first conference game will be against Washington on Jan. 3 at Friel Court.
Monday night, the Cougars had their first test run of the season, beating Tory Kosice of Solvakia 69-67 in Pullman.
Kunze had a team-high 11 points and six rebounds. Alicia Rubio added 10 points and Dietel had nine. Elena Ivanovskaja, a 6-1 forward, led the visitors with 16 points and 5-9 Andrea Belanska added 13.
WSU, which led by 17 the first half, saw Tory Kosice rally behind 71-percent shooting the second half and take a two-point lead. Dietel’s three-point play gave the Cougars a 61-59 advantage they never lost.
Kunze, more muscular than Dietel, earned a starting position midway through her sophomore year. Last year, she started all 27 games and averaged 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds. Her role became more important when then-senior forward Kristin Erickson suffered a season-ending knee injury after 10 games.
During an exhibition game in November, guard Jen Kerns broke her left wrist and she, too, was lost for the season. In February, Laura Wilder - no longer with the team - suffered the team’s second season-ending knee injury. Cathy McNeely also underwent an emergency appendectomy.
Kerns, a sophomore from Coeur d’Alene, is back. However, she reinjured her wrist in the summer but is expected to be ready for the season opener after sitting out Monday.
McNeely, a 5-9 sophomore guard, is fully recovered, but didn’t play Monday. Neither did Joanna Smith, a sophomore starting point guard, who suffered a stress fracture in her right foot this fall. Rhodes is hopeful she’ll be ready for the opener.
“Although we’re not focusing on just one individual, there’s no question about it, Yvonne will be the person we look at on offense this year,” said Rhodes, who enters his 16th year as WSU coach.
Dietel is not a low-post, physical player. She’s best from the perimeter, where she can shoot and hurt the opponent from 3-point range.
“She’s very intelligent with the basketball,” Rhodes said of Dietel. “She makes good decisions and she’ll take a lot of the scoring pressure off Yvonne.”
And communicating with each other certainly shouldn’t be a problem.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo