Nov. 12, 2002
If Sherri Murrell were to entitle a book on the Washington State women's basketball team's 2002-03 season it would be: History Begins Now.
A succinct heading, and for the first-year Washington State women's basketball coach, of immeasurable significance.
"I am not looking backward," said Murrell. "The team and I have so much excitement, energy and enthusiasm for this season. Obviously we have to learn from the past but when I took the job my goal was to not expand on the past. We are concerned about what is going on now."
As the yet unwritten manuscript of Murrell's tenure takes shape, she has a clear vision on what she wants in the text.
"Every year my goals are, number one to have a winning season, and number two to play in the postseason and win a conference championship," the Portland, Ore. native said. "In realistic terms we have a big hill to get to the top. I don't know if a conference championship is something that is reachable right now but we are sure going to shoot for it.
"We just need to win and within that is the journey," Murrell continued. "When we have a great practice, that would constitute a positive step toward a great season. We want to take good, positive steps toward becoming an improving team. We can't focus too much on winning and losing right now, we have to focus on getting better."
Murrell brings together a contingent of eight returning letterwinners and six newcomers to embark on the 2002-03 journey.
Heading the list of returning letterwinners are two seniors, Jessica Ottmar and Sarah Barrett. A 6-foot guard/forward, Ottmar brings a wealth of experience to the team, having played in every game the past two years. Barrett, who returns after sitting out last year, will provide an outside shooting threat for the Cougars as the 5-foot-9 guard drained 43 three-pointers during the 2000-01 season.
Three juniors - Lindsey Egeland (5-foot-9 guard), Kim Dugan (5-foot-11 guard) and Candace Fields (6-foot-2 junior) - as well as three sophomores - Jami Clevenger (6-foot forward), Emma Joneby (6-foot-2 forward) and Jessica Perry (5-foot-6 guard) - complete the returning letterwinner contingent.
Perry shined during her freshman campaign, which was capped by a 21-point performance against Oregon in the Pacific-10 Conference Tournament last season. Perry led the team in assists averaging 3.3 a game, which was 10th in the Pac-10. In addition, Perry enters her sophomore season as the team's top returning scorer (6.9 points per game).
Fields enters 2002-03 as the team's top returning rebounder (3.9/game) and blocker as the junior recorded 18 blocks for a team that set a single-season record of 106 rejections last season.
"Jessica Perry ended the season last year with a great Oregon game," Murrell said. "She is going to be a key player for us and is coming into this season with a lot of confidence.
"I think this is going to be a good year for Candace Fields," Murrell continued. "Candace is going to do a lot for us inside. She improved quite a bit in the month we worked with her over the spring."
Six newcomers - three juniors and three freshmen - join the team providing the Cougars with much needed depth, which was absent last year.
"I am excited about the newcomers we have coming in," Murrell said. "We have depth as far as some good players in positions."
Heading the junior contingent are two players that Murrell signed over the spring, Ravon Justice and Bianca McCall. Justice, a 5-foot-6 guard, averaged a Western Junior College Athletic Conference (WJCAC) leading 20.2 points per game last year at Clarendon College, earning her WJCAC Player of the Year honors. McCall, a 6-foot-1 forward, averaged 19.2 points and a California state-leading 15.1 rebounds and 4.3 blocks a game at Santa Rosa Junior College last year.
Completing the junior newcomer trio is Holly Harris, a 6-foot-2 forward who will join the team after completing her WSU volleyball career sometime in December.
As far Murrell is concerned, the incoming freshmen will have as much an opportunity to log on-the-court minutes as the veterans.
"It's all going to come down to who earns it," Murrell said. "I tell all the players, 'It's yours to gain and yours to lose,' and I think that makes for a high competition level. Everybody is going to want to do really well to earn those minutes."
Lack of size hurt the Cougars on the boards last year, as the team was out-rebounded in all but three games. However, while conceding that the lack of size will present a challenge for the team, it is not one that Murrell sees as insurmountable.
"We have to be creative because we are not going to be the tallest team out there," she said. "Many times, the key to wins is rebounding. Defensively, we are going to have to do some things but you don't have to be the tallest player to rebound and we are going to focus a lot on rebounding."
What the team may lack in size, however, is made up through its quickness, and its heart, according to Murrell.
"Our backcourt is going to be pretty quick," Murrell said. "I am excited about Perry running the show and I think we have an outside shooting threat with many of our guards. "I think our biggest strength is our will to win," she continued. "These women really have a passion about wanting to win. They are excited about the changes and that will to win is going to do a lot for us."
The non-conference portion of the schedule features a trip to Miami for the Florida International University Thanksgiving Tournament as well as the regular season home contests against Wyoming, Nov. 22; Eastern Washington, Dec.4; Utah, Dec. 21 and Idaho in a rare February non-conference tilt.
In addition to the non-conference side of the schedule, the always-formidable Pac-10 schedule will give Murrell a challenge she is looking forward to meeting.
"I grew up in the Pac-10 and always played Pac-10 schools while at Pacific so I am very familiar with the conference," Murrell said. "What better way to spend your coaching career then to have a big game going on every night. That is what the Pac-10 offers; every day players have to prepare for a really good team."
As Murrell begins her book on the Cougar women's basketball program there is already one chapter she has written: Her step-by-step process of building the program, which includes: one - graduate players; two - have players take pride in the program; and three - have her players be champions, both on the court and off, when they leave WSU.
"There is an abundance of resources here," Murrell said. "Now it is up to us and I am looking forward to that challenge."