The Next Rebuilding Project

On Sunday I attended the Cougar Women’s basketball team’s final home game of the year. Attendance for the game was 675.

The Cougars lost for the 24th time this season. Stanford eased past the Cougs 74-52 and saw their star player Candace Wiggins break Lisa Leslie’s all-time Pac-10 scoring record. It was almost a shame so few people were there to see such an accomplishment.

I say almost because the crowd there, at the very least, was made up of people who cared. The audience cheered the outgoing seniors one last time. They cheered Wiggins after her record-breaking bucket. Kyle Weaver, Taylor Rochestie, and Nikola Koprivica were there to watch the second half (when they weren’t being sought after for autographs), and groups of family and friends were there to cheer on the Cougs in a losing effort. Even the band sparked a mini-run by making noise while Stanford’s reserves were on offense.

The best part of it all for myself and the 674 others was that we saw the end of an era. Soon, Washington State Women’s Basketball won’t be the doormat of the Pac-10. The days of 2-win conference seasons and futility on both sides of the court will be coming to a close shortly. Sheri Murrell and Jenny Przekwas tried to turn around a program that hasn’t finished in the top half of the conference since 1990. Both failed. June Daugherty will not.

Daugherty made the NCAA tournament in nine of her eleven successful years at the University of Washington. She isn’t used to losing, and thanks to her recruiting efforts, she won’t have to be. Daugherty’s first major recruiting class has been ranked 24th in the nation by the spelling-challenged women’s recruiting site HoopGurlz.com. Blue Star Basketball ranked the Cougars’ incoming class 16th in December.

There’s Katie Grad, a Sporting News honorable mention All-American from Auburn. There’s Jessica Oestreicher, a 6’8″ center who is nationally ranked and will be WSU’s tallest recruit ever. There’s April Cook, who played for a #1 nationally ranked Long Beach Poly high school team. There’s Lexie Pettersen, a 6’1″ forward who finally breaks the hex of Wazzu being unable to recruit elite Spokane-area players. There’s Danielle Lenoir, Jazmine Perkins, and Rosie Tarnowski, all of whom you can read about here so that this paragraph doesn’t take over half the page. And it could with all the accolades the future Cougars have racked up.

The best part of it all is that WSU won’t have to solely rely on freshmen next year, as talented juniors Katie Appleton and Ebonee Coates are set to return. It will take time, but it is possible that WSU’s women’s team could rebound faster than the men’s team did under Dick and Tony Bennett. Daugherty has been just that good at recruiting.

And in case you’re wondering what good coaching does with good talent, read this Cougfan.com interview with WSU’s outgoing seniors on the men’s team. Notice how many times Dick Bennett is mentioned, and thanked for his role in shaping the improbable Cougars that you see today. Dick Bennett will be in attendance on Saturday when the #23 men’s team takes on the Huskies, and soon he will not be the only coach that has brought a once frail Cougars basketball program back into the national spotlight.

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