If this season looks like the mother of all rebuilding projects at Washington State, Kamie Ethridge is quick to disagree.
The Cougars lost their top three scorers and rebounders from last year, but Ethridge believes they have more depth this year.
They also have some qualities that can’t be defined by a stat box.
“I feel like we’re better prepared, top to bottom, culture-wise and skill-set-wise, and experience- and depth-wise,” Ethridge said recently.
“We’re really in a better place than we ever have been, and I think we’ll be competitive because of that,” said Ethridge, now in her third year in Pullman.
Whether the Cougars can improve on last year’s record – 11-20 overall and 4-14 in the rugged Pac-12 – remains to be seen.
Gone are Borislava Hristova, WSU’s all-time leading scorer, and point guard Chanelle Molina, the program’s first five-star recruit. Together, they accounted for 33 points per game – more than half the team’s average output – and 11 rebounds.
Ethridge also must replace Jovana Subasic (8.4 points, 4 rebounds) and Johanna Muzet, who transferred out of the program:
“We have a lot of talent and players that … bring different skill sets to the game, and make us a little bit harder to defend, and a better basketball team overall.”
To replace Molina, the Cougars will be counting on Krystal Leger-Walker, who played one season for Ethridge at Northern Colorado.
A graduate transfer, Leger-Walker is “more of a pass-first guard, and she also has the experience,” Ethridge said.
Her younger sister Charlisse, also a guard, is the youngest player to lace up for the New Zealand women’s national basketball team, having joined the Tall Ferns at just 16 years old. In 2018, she helped her homeland win bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.
“She’s going to be a star, and she has an otherworldly IQ,” Ethridge said.
Also in the mix to start in the backcourt is Johanna Teder, a native of Estonia who played last year at a junior college in Texas.
In the frontcourt, Ethridge will count on the progress of 6-foot-5 post Bella Murekatete, a sophomore from Rwanda who appeared in 29 games and started 21 while averaging 5.4 points and 4 rebounds. She played at Genesis Prep in Post Falls.
A sure starter inside is 6-1 junior forward Ula Motuga of Australia. The only player besides Hristova and Molina to average at least 30 minutes per game, Motuga averaged 7.4 points and four boards.
Junior Shir Levy, who started 28 games last year, also figures to get plenty of playing time.
When the season suddenly ended in March, Jay Newlee’s Vandals were set to play Montana State for the Big Sky Conference title and a berth in the NCAAs.
“Now we’ve got another chance,” said Newlee, who went 22-9 overall and 15-5 in the Big Sky Conference last season. “Let’s finish the job.”
Certainly, Newlee has plenty of tools – a fact recognized in the preseason polls. Among the coaches, Idaho is a co-favorite with Idaho State, and alone at the top in the media poll.
Idaho has 10 returning players, including point guard and leading scorer Gina Marxen, top rebounder Natalie Klinker (7.5 per game) and All-Big Sky performer Beyonce Bea.
Marxen, a junior from Sammamish, Washington, averaged 13.3 points and 4.4 assists last season and has 154 career 3-pointers. Guard Lizzy Klinker (12.8 points, 6.6 rebounds) is also back.
Bea, who averaged 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds, earned third-team All-Big Sky honors last year and finished fifth in the conference in scoring. The hybrid guard/post player also finished the season with 0.8 blocks per game.
Idaho also has two transfers, forward-guard Rylee Alexander from Pratt (Kansas) Community College, and Gabi Harrington, a guard who played three seasons for Montana.
Expectations aren’t high in Cheney following a 4-26 season and the subsequent departure of three players to other Division I programs.
The Eagles were picked to finish 10th and ninth in the media and coaches’ polls, respectively.
“It’s a process. We talk every day about trusting the process and not expecting everything all at once,” Eagles coach Wendy Schuller said. “It helps we have the upperclassmen we have, that have bought into the team concept.”
The Eagles return three players who started much of last season, including their leading scorer, junior guard Grace Kirscher ( 10.7 ppg).
Also back are sophomore guards Kennedy Dickie and Jenna Dick, who each started 21 games last season. Their presence may open things up for sophomore forward Milly Knowles, who was injured last season.
“I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest post. I feel l have both (shooting and inside) ability,” Knowles said.
The Eagles have eight newcomers on the roster, including three transfers.
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