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Jenna Moser, once reluctant to play, has become a leader for Washington Huskies

Jenna Moser says she had to be encouraged at every step to join the Washington Huskies. It has worked out nicely as she started all 29 games this season, averaging 8.9 points. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Jenna Moser says she had to be encouraged at every step to join the Washington Huskies. It has worked out nicely as she started all 29 games this season, averaging 8.9 points. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

It was never Jenna Moser’s plan to get back on the basketball court in college.

But almost four years ago, the Colton native found herself walking into the Washington Huskies’ practice ready to play.

Moser hadn’t been recruited by the Huskies. There were no openings on the roster. She didn’t even know anyone on the coaching staff or any of the players on the team.

“When I showed up, everyone was like, ‘Who was this girl?’ But in a good way,” Moser said.

She was a former Colton star who lost just one game in a Wildcats jersey between 2010 and 2014. She helped Colton to four consecutive state 1B titles and finished her high school career with 1,477 points.

She was the 1B Player of the Year in her final two seasons and the basketball Athlete of the Year in 2014.

She was a four-year varsity player in basketball, softball and volleyball. She was the ASB President as a senior and Colton graduate with a 4.0 GPA.

That first day on the Huskies court, she was just a freshman at Washington studying finance and focused on her academics. She had figured her basketball career had been left on the high school court, but her former coach at Colton, Clark Vining, had contacted the Huskies about Moser and talked her into becoming at least a practice player.

“It was not part of my plan,” Moser said. “I was still figuring out how to do college, how to do school.”

Over the next few months, Moser started reworking her college plan. She moved her classes to the mornings so she could get to practices in the afternoon. She showed up to the majority of practices during her freshman year and would often watch the Huskies play at home with the other practice players in the stands.

“Those are the times where I was like OK, I think this would be cool to be out there,” she said.

The following season, the Huskies experienced some player movement from injuries and transfers that had left holes in the roster. Then-head coach Mike Neighbors was in need of a bandage and Moser, who had rejoined the practice squad that year, was the only player he wanted to promote.

Nearly every practice, Neighbors would ask Moser to walk on, but she kept turning him down.

Midway through the season, Moser said she felt like she had a better handle on her classes. She thought about reworking her plan again and considered taking up Neighbors on his offer and becoming a reserve.

“About a month had gone by, we were getting close to Christmas, and she said, ‘Hey coach, you haven’t asked me to travel with you guys in a while,’ “ Neighbors said. “I think I said something, trying to be funny like, ‘Oh I give up on girls after I ask a thousand times and they tell me no.’

“And then she said, ‘Well ask me again, because I can do it now,’ ” Neighbors said.

Neighbors added her to the roster and Moser started going on the road with the Huskies and would mostly watch the games from her spot on the Washington bench.

Her minutes on the court were few and far between, especially during the 2015-2016 season when the Huskies reached the Final Four.

Moser appeared in five games that season, averaging about a minute on the court. Last season, she appeared in nine games, getting nearly 2 more minutes of playing time per game than the previous year.

“That reserve position … can be hard if you’re used to playing your whole high school career and you’re on the floor a lot and then you come in here and sit on the bench,” Moser said. “But you have to embrace it and be the best bench player you can be and take advantage of it when you do get in the game.”

Moser scored her first collegiate field goal last season at Pullman when the Huskies routed Washington State 87-44 on Jan. 22. Near the end of the game, she put up a 3-pointer in front of friends and family who had made the short trip to watch her play.

“That was really exciting,” she said.

After losing Neighbors to a head coaching job at Arkansas and the team’s top players, including Plum, to graduation this season, Washington was in need of a veteran to mitigate the tough road ahead.

Once again, the Huskies turned to Moser.

She was awarded a full scholarship and she took over the squad from the start of the season. She started all 29 games and stayed on the floor for 30.9 minutes per game, averaging 8.9 points and shooting 41.1 percent from the field.

This season was a rough one for the Huskies, who are trying to rebuild under new head coach Jody Wynn. The team finished 1-17 in the Pac-12, the only win against WSU when the Huskies downed the Cougars 56-49 on Jan. 21.

Washington’s nonconference schedule was a bit easier, but the Huskies still struggled and finished the regular season with just seven victories. Next up for the Huskies is a game against California at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Pac-12 Tournament at KeyArena in Seattle. (Washington State plays Southern California on Thursday at 6 p.m.)

Moser said this season for the Huskies was all about learning to keep their heads up, even when they’re sitting at the bottom of the standings.

“Every little thing, every moral victory is huge because we really had no idea how we were going to make it,” Moser said. “To have those … wins, a lot of teams don’t get any. You have to celebrate those little things.”

She has the option to return to the team next season for her fourth year of eligibility, but Moser said she hasn’t mapped out her plan for next year. If she pursues a Master’s degree at Washington, she would be open to staying on the squad one more season.

But for now, she’s just enjoying what could be her final moments on the court.

“I’m still figuring it out,” she said. “As of now, I’m just playing like it is my last season because you never really know for sure.”

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