Nov. 10, 2003
A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
The statement is a Chinese Proverb but it could very well be the axiom for the Washington State women's basketball team. And although the record may not reflect it, the Cougars took several steps in their rebuilding journey last season.
"Sometimes the end result is overemphasized and the process to get there is underemphasized," WSU Head Coach Sherri Murrell said. "It is a process. It is not going to happen overnight but I think we took a step in the right direction last season."
That step proved to be elusive throughout much of the season but it finally materialized when the Cougars defeated California 67-64, Feb. 13.
Ironically; however, the biggest step the Cougars may have taken last season came in a loss.
Going into their Pac-10 Tournament match-up against USC, the Cougars were not given much chance of victory.
Why? Because in the team's two prior regular season meetings, USC defeated WSU by decisive margins.
However, the third game proved to be a different story as the Cougars held an advantage with less than five minutes remaining before falling to the Women of Troy 53-46.
"Our Pac-10 tournament game against USC was a great indicator on how much the team improved over the year and never lost its will to win," Murrell said.
"It was a bittersweet ending," Murrell added. "The kids were really disappointed because it was right in their hands; that was the bitter part, they knew they could win the game. It was sweet in the sense that they thought 'Wow, look at what we accomplished.' No one in that arena, except for us, thought that we could win when we started the game. I think it is going to springboard us right into this season."
Landing on that springboard is a group of eight returning letterwinners, including four seniors, and five newcomers to make up a team determined on building on the improvements made last year.
Heading the list of returners is senior 6-foot-1 forward Bianca McCall. McCall, who was Murrell's first recruit to WSU, turned in a stellar 2002-03 season, which was capped by an All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention selection. McCall concluded the season ranked in the top 10 in the conference in five categories and her six 20-point games finished tied for eighth in the conference.
Egeland walked-on the team as a freshman in 2000 and has worked her way into a starting position. She started 27 of 28 games last year and was fourth on the team in scoring averaging 6.8 points a contest.
Despite missing eight games during the middle of the season with a left foot stress fracture, Fields was second on the team in rebounding (6.0/game) and third in scoring (7.7 points/game) last year.
Dugan missed the season's final 19 games with a left wrist fracture. Prior to her injury, Dugan averaged 6.8 points in nine games.
Running the point, Perry started 25 of 26 games, missing the season's first two games with mononucleosis. Perry recorded three games of 20 points or more including a career-high 25 points at Stanford, Jan. 16. She finished the season ninth in the conference in assists (3.27) and steals (1.92/game).
Both Clevenger and Joneby saw extensive action throughout the season as Clevenger started 17 of the 27 games played while Joneby saw action in all 28 games starting 10.
Rounding out the returning group is sophomore Charmaine Jones. Jones, a 5-foot-6 guard, played a vast amount as a freshman seeing action in 20 games including the final 19 of the season.
The returning contingent includes six players with at least two years playing for the Cougars. According to Murrell, the experiences this group has gone through will serve them well in 2003-04.
"I believe what the players went through last year will only feed their hunger for winning," Murrell said. "I believe that experience is going to be great for us this year because they will have this undeniable sense of a will to win."
Coming into the 2003-04 season, Murrell has brought in five newcomers, including two from the state of Washington.
The freshmen class includes Adriane Ferguson, a 6-foot guard out of Spokane, Wash., who was a first team All-State selection while averaging 15.8 points a game her senior season, and Kate Benz, a 6-foot-2 forward from Portland, Ore, who was a first team All-State honoree as well with averages of 15.9 points and 12.7 rebounds a contest.
The class continues with Nikki Stratton of Colorado Springs, Colo., a 5-foot-10 guard who garnered first team All-State recognition posting a 16 points per game average while leading the state of Colorado with an assist average of 6.1 per outing, and Stephanie Singer, a 5-foot-7 point guard out of Eugene, Ore., who received first team All-State honors while putting up 15 points per game and dishing out seven assists.
Horton, a 6-foot-4 center out of Blanchet High School in Seattle, was originally recruited by Murrell at Pacific and comes to the Cougars after a year at Umpqua Community College where she averaged 11.7 points and eight rebounds in 2002-03.
The addition of the newcomers will bring to the Cougars depth - something that Murrell says was missing last year.
"We have depth now," Murrell said. "Each of these individuals will provide immediate help in needed areas as well as create a competitive practice atmosphere."
Along with added depth and increased competition in practice, Murrell says that the make-up of the team will translate into increased offensive options on the floor.
"With the addition of shooters from the outside we are not just going to be an inside team now," Murrell said. "We'll be able to hit the shot from the outside. One thing that really hurt us toward the second half of the Pac-10 was that everybody was double and triple teaming Bianca and we didn't have that outside threat to counteract that."
In addition to the outside game, turnovers and a lack of a defensive presence hurt the Cougars last season. WSU struggled in scoring defense (76 points/game) and turnover margin (-6.32/game) in 2002-03.
"We cannot average the turnovers that we did and expect to win ballgames; defensively we allowed too many points," Murrell said. "I think changes that we're making as a coaching staff defensively are going to set up our kids to succeed."
The Cougars did have several chances to succeed last year but could not close the deal. On five occasions, the Cougars held or were within two points of the lead with less than two minutes remaining and could not pull out victory.
"A key for us is knowing how to win and closing out a game," Murrell said. "We were so close. We must be able to finish games out."
Once again, WSU will be faced with a challenging schedule. Last year, the Cougars' schedule was 30th in the nation according to the WBCA (Women's Basketball Coaches Association)/Summerville RPI strength of schedule ratings. That ranking was as high as second during the course of the season.
WSU will play nine teams that advanced to postseason play last year. The Cougars play four teams - Utah, Arizona, Stanford, Washington - that reached the NCAA Tournament and five - Arizona State, Baylor, Fresno State, Oregon State, Wyoming - that competed in the WNIT.
"We have a good challenging schedule lined up that includes nine teams that reached postseason play this past season," Murrell said."The more our young players learn early and we stay healthy, the more the wins will come for us.
"Last year was probably the most successful "unsuccessful" season I've had," Murrell added. "We collectively had a group of kids that never gave up and they were a pleasure to coach too. They are ready to win; and we will."