PULLMAN – Washington State’s new women’s basketball coach was en route to Pullman, eager to pursue a new opportunity with the Cougars, but still wrestling with the emotions that came with leaving her old job at the University of Northern Colorado, a place that gave the 53-year-old her first head coaching gig four years ago.
Kamie Ethridge wasn’t second-guessing the career move, necessarily, but it also wasn’t a bad time for a pick-me-up.
“I had to leave a program that I was invested in and people that I love and cherish,” Ethridge said during an introductory press conference Tuesday afternoon in Pullman. “I got an email from this group of seven (returning WSU players). They all signed it and they just kind of said, knowing I was closing some things back in Colorado, they made me realize and put it in perspective a little bit and told me, ‘Coach, when you close things, new things open, new opportunities and new adventures and new relationships.’ ”
Borislava Hristova, WSU’s leading scorer at 17.8 ppg last season, spearheaded the effort.
“I know it’s always hard to leave the environment you’re used to,” Hristova said. “So I felt like sending her out an email before she comes here … so once she meets us, we don’t look like total strangers. So we can show her we support her and we’re just going to trust her to lead us next season to big things.”
“It hit me hard,” Ethridge said. “18- to 22-year-olds that give you perspective and bring you back to the things that are important.”
Inside the Cougar Football Complex, Ethridge was introduced before a standing-room-only crowd of WSU administrators, coaches, athletic boosters, media members and Ethridge’s mother, who flew in from Texas to attend. Near the front of the room were the seven players left on WSU’s roster after a tumultuous 2017-18 campaign.
Eleventh-year coach June Daugherty was fired in March after leading the Cougars to an underwhelming 10-20 record, which included a 3-14 mark in the Pac-12 and opening-round loss in the conference tournament. Quite a stretch from the lofty preseason expectations placed on the Cougars. Some thought WSU had enough talent and experience to break a 26-year NCAA Tournament drought.
Three seniors graduated and WSU lost another trio of rotational players – Nike McClure, Louise Brown and Kayla Washington – who elected to transfer after a reported dust-up with the school’s new athletic director, Pat Chun.
Seven players survived the turmoil and committed to Ethridge’s rebuild: Johanna Muzet, Chanelle Molina, Maria Kostourkova, Alexys Swedlund, Jovana Subasic, Celena Molina and Hristova.
“I’m sure there was a lot of doubt,” Ethridge said. “And it was very evident that they stuck. It’s an amazing thing when you stick through adversity and you find a way and you pull together and understand what it takes to continue on.”
Cherilyn Molina, the younger sister of Chanelle and Celena, will join the Cougars this fall, leaving Ethridge with five scholarships to fill. Her coaching and playing credentials should be a major asset on the recruiting trail.
Ethridge was an All-American point guard at the University of Texas who helped the Longhorns capture the 1986 national championship. She helped the USA women win a gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and padded her international resume with golds at the FIBA World Championship (1986), the World University Games (1985) and the Pan American Games (1987).
“As soon as I found out, I did my research on her,” Chanelle Molina said. “She was a 5-5 point guard, gold medalist and all that. For me as a point guard, I’m excited to learn from her.”
Ethridge’s four UNC teams combined to go 83-44.
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