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Sports >  WSU basketball

The Kamie Ethridge effect: In just four seasons, Washington State women’s basketball has taken on the personality of its coach

March 12, 2022 Updated Sat., March 12, 2022 at 10:07 p.m.

Washington State head coach Kamie Ethridge, right, speaks with center Bella Murekatete during a college basketball game in January in Pullman.  (Associated Press)
Washington State head coach Kamie Ethridge, right, speaks with center Bella Murekatete during a college basketball game in January in Pullman. (Associated Press)
By Sydney Paige Berger For The Spokesman-Review

Washington State University wanted to make a splash when it hired Kamie Ethridge as women’s basketball coach in April 2018.

Four years later, the program is poised to make history.

On Sunday, the Cougars will learn if their 19-10 record and second-place finish in the Pac-12 is enough to earn a second straight NCAA Tournament berth.

Which means Ethridge, recently picked by the media as Pac-12 Conference Coach of the Year, may become the first coach in program history to guide WSU to back-to-back tournaments.

Prior to the 2020-21 season, the WSU women’s basketball program had not made an NCAA Tournament for almost three decades.

When Ethridge arrived in Pullman four years ago, she discovered a team with plenty of needs.

Just seven players remained on the roster after the 2017-18 season. Without a winning history at WSU, Ethridge relied on building trust with potential players and her prior coaching success as her primary recruiting tools.

“The players chose us when no one else had any vision of Washington State basketball in another place besides the bottom third of the league,” Ethridge said. “Those are the people that believed in us and said, ‘I see what you see, I like your vision, and I want to be a part of changing the tradition of a program.’ ”

Ethridge, who began her coaching career at Kansas State as an assistant for 18 seasons, spent four seasons as head coach (2014-18) at the University of Northern Colorado. There, she was awarded Big Sky Coach of the Year after leading the Beats to a program-record of 26 wins in 2017-18.

Her reward was a move to Pullman and a six-year contract.

For Ethridge, much of her coaching strategy stems from her time as a player.

After leading Texas to the 1986 national championship, she was named Most Valuable Player and honored with the prestigious Honda Broderick Cup, an award given to the top female student-athlete in the country. Ethridge, who in 2019 became the first female athlete to have her jersey number retired in UT history, helped the Longhorns advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 every season she played and was team captain for the 1986 squad that finished 34-0.

Two years later, she earned a gold medal on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team. She’s matched her international success as a player with international success as a recruiter.

In her first two seasons at WSU, Ethridge secured valuable international players Ula Motuga (Australia), Krystal Leger-Walker (New Zealand) and Bella Murekatete (Rwanda). The addition of Charlisse Leger-Walker (New Zealand) and Johanna Teder (Estonia) last season marked the beginning of today’s juggernaut.

WSU finished 12-12 that season, but had convincing wins against Top 25 teams like Oregon State, Arizona and UCLA that showed increasing promise. It marked the first time WSU had earned at least a .500 record since 2014-15. The school rewarded her with an extension through 2027.

“Those first couple years, we were like behavior cops,” Ethridge said. “We were trying to teach our players what this gym needed to look like, how we needed to train, how we needed to treat each other and how we needed to communicate. We were building the culture.”

Now in her fourth season with the Cougars, Ethridge said the culture is built.

“I don’t have to be the behavior cop now because it’s instilled in our players,” Ethridge said. “When your program gets to that point where your players’ voices are the loudest voices, that’s when your team is in a better spot.”

Ethridge led her team to 19 regular-season wins, a WSU program record since the beginning of the NCAA era. Among those victories was an upset against No. 8 Arizona that resulted in the Cougars being named ESPN’s “Team of the Week” in early February.

Charlisse and Krystal Leger-Walker and Murekatete earned Pac-12 honors this season: Charlisse, All-Pac-12 first-team; Krystal, All-Pac-12 honorable mention and All-Pac-12 defensive team honorable mention; and Murekatete, the 2021-22 Pac-12 Conference most improved co-player of the year. Charlisse and Teder each earned a Pac-12 Player of the Week award this season.

“We’ve become consistent and a team that can win playing different styles,” Ethridge said.

“We can beat a high-pressure team like Arizona, but we can also beat a really tall team like Oregon State.”

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