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Washington State guard Chanelle Molina has become the Cougars’ ‘heartbeat’

Jan. 23, 2020 Updated Thu., Jan. 23, 2020 at 6:52 p.m.

Washington State guard Chanelle Molina  guides the offense against Stanford during a game in Stanford, Calif., Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. (Jeff Chiu / AP)
Washington State guard Chanelle Molina guides the offense against Stanford during a game in Stanford, Calif., Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. (Jeff Chiu / AP)
By Colton Clark Lewiston Tribune

PULLMAN – It’s a tall task to sum up what Chanelle Molina means – and has meant – for her Washington State program since she broke out about three years ago.

She’s been the Cougars’ primary facilitator in recent years. She can erupt for 20-plus points on a nightly basis, prospering from anywhere on the hardwood. She’s Wazzu’s No. 1 in crashing the boards. And no one in the Pac-12 has played more minutes than the 5-foot-9 former five-star (ESPN) point guard from Hawaii – a floor general in every sense.

Molina is the gear that keeps second-year coach Kamie Ethridge’s team operating, and it’s not been hard for others to fall in line.

Basically, she does – and has meant – everything for the Cougs (9-9, 2-4 Pac-12).

“I hope you have a long time,” Ethridge said when asked of Molina’s best qualities. “What Chanelle is to this program, is like our heartbeat. She never has a bad day on the court, as far as energy and coming ready. She’s the hardest worker, she has to do the most for us. She plays 40 minutes, then is like, ‘Let’s go again, I’ll play again.’ Emotionally, physically, mentally, she’s gonna give you everything she’s got.

“There’s not a better compliment I can give.”

Molina, an All-Pac-12 honoree last year, averages 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 35.5 minutes per game. She’s 67 assists shy of snapping the all-time mark at WSU, but she hasn’t been reserved when it comes to scoring.

Molina is the Cougs’ sharpest 3-point shooter, too, having connected on 43 of 102 this year, many procured with a smooth stepback. When she hits three more, she’ll be the No. 3 deep-ball shooter in Wazzu history, and she didn’t start shooting 3-pointers until college.

“It’s all repetitions, you know, like brushing your teeth,” Molina said of her refined offensive touch, which has developed remarkably fast by the year. “It’s muscle memory, so I just train myself to get up shots as much as I can. Not just get up shots, but make them.

“I was kind of hesitant to shoot even though I was open (in years past). I’m just finding my shots more, finding where I can shoot at a high percentage.”

She prides herself on that astute selection and shot-creation, and her aggressive rebounding. Also of note is her resilience – her being able to morph with a new system after the termination of former coach June Daugherty, who recruited her.

“What I respect so much about ’Nelle and Bobi (fellow four-year standout Borislava Hristova), is they could’ve cut out of here so fast. People were probably poaching them when the coaching change happened,” said Ethridge, who was hired out of Northern Colorado before last season. “We’ll build our program around those two. They stuck. They still chose to make a legacy and impact for Washington State.”

Leaving didn’t feel right for Molina, a highly touted recruit out of Division I hotbed Konawaena High (Kailua Kona) who chose the Cougs over offers from league powers Oregon and Oregon State. She wanted to contribute right away, and when Ethridge came, she sought to help with the rebuild.

Molina welcomed the opportunity to refine her point-guard play under Ethridge, a Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer, Olympic gold medalist and one of the sport’s best at the position. The shooting prowess of assistant Laurie Koehn – one of college basketball’s top 3-point shooters while at Kansas State (2001-05) – was also a lure.

“I’ve got one of the best point guards to play the game coaching me, and I’ve got one of the best shooters. I’m in such a good position,” Molina said. “They’re amazing coaches. The way they talk to us, it’s like, we’re people. They really do care for us.”

About four years ago, Molina took after former Konawaena stars Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa, both of whom suited up and stood out in crimson and gray in the years preceding Molina’s recruitment.

“It was kind of a pipeline connection,” Molina said. “I had options, I had lots of options. Them playing here really made me comfortable. I wanted to follow in their footsteps but create my own legacy, too.”

She became Part 1 of the Molina legacy at Wazzu. Her younger sisters, redshirt sophomore Celena and sophomore Cherilyn, now share Beasley Coliseum with Chanelle in perhaps the only current instance at the Power-Six level of three siblings on the same team.

WSU’s former coaching staff had scouted Chanelle Molina during mainland summer tournaments with the Kona Stingrays club team.

“When they watched me play, they watched my sisters play,” the eldest sibling said. “Growing up, we were always so active. With siblings, you’re never doing things alone. You have someone, your best friends.”

Ethridge said Chanelle Molina takes on the “typical first-child responsibility” of providing an example for her sisters. She’s the “tough-love” leader; Celena is the “caretaker” and Cherilyn, also a point guard, is “feisty,” Ethridge noted.

“ ’Nelle feels responsibility, not only for her siblings, but for her family, doing good for her family back home,” Ethridge said.

Growing up in the small, sunny, scenic seaside town of Kailua Kona, Molina began her athletic endeavor with soccer and volleyball, and she didn’t grasp a basketball until about age 10.

Even at a young age, her volleyball coach noticed her next-level coordination and footwork, and implored her to try her hand at hoops.

It didn’t take long for her to know it was her calling.

“As soon as I touched the basketball,” she said.

Molina spent countless hours training at a local gym, while her dad, Allan, played pick-up games. Her first memories of the sport involve competing against “guys on the club team.”

By the time she was a freshman in high school, college programs came calling, and all Molina did was reaffirm the interest. She was a three-time Division I Hawaii Player of the Year, a prep All-American and leader of back-to-back state champion teams en route to becoming the 11th-highest-rated guard in her entire recruiting class.

“I just got motivated (after a close championship loss as a freshman), and the three years after that, I just kept getting better and better every year,” she said.

As a WSU rookie, she was named an all-conference freshman, despite an ACL injury midway through the year. A week before came her breakout performance against No. 9 UCLA, when she scored 33 points to spearhead a marquee win.

“Scoring on that team gave me confidence,” she said.

Molina’s had a crucial impact as a team leader who can do it all. But her focus is to prepare WSU’s young players, and be a better “others-aware” teammate.

“That’s the biggest thing for me in my senior year,” she said. “Just to bring passion. With passion comes hard work, energy and discipline.”

Her greener colleagues could take a cue just from watching, such as when she had 25 points against top-five Baylor earlier this year to top 1,000 career points – just a taste of what’s to come for the future professional and WSU’s heartbeat.

“She’s just greatly skilled and talented – honestly, I think one of the best players in the country,” Ethridge said. “She carries us in so many ways. … She cannot give more to this program.”

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