Nov. 21, 2001
For those individuals who embarked on the original Oregon Trail during the mid-19th century, the goal was to reach the Pacific Northwest and enjoy the rewards the region had to offer.
And while the Washington State women's basketball squad already reaps the benefits of living in the Pacific Northwest, the Cougars have a specific destination in mind for their particular trail to Oregon during the 2001-02 season.
That is Eugene, where the inaugural Pacific-10 Conference Tournament will be held March 1-4. While an invitation to the tournament is guaranteed for the Cougars (all of the Pac-10 teams will advance), success at the tournament is not.
And that is what third year head coach Jenny Przekwas will be building toward through the course of the 2001-2002 season.
In Przekwas' second season at the helm last year, the Cougars made great strides en route to compiling an 11-17 overall record.
Now, as WSU enters the 2001-02 campaign, transferring the achievements from the previous year to aspirations of success leading to the Pac-10 Tournament is the target the Cougars have set their sights on this year.
"What I want the team to be talking and thinking about is the Pac-10 Tournament," said Przekwas. "The tournament is a great finish to the year and provides access to the NCAA Tournament. I want our team to set some kind of Pac-10 Tournament goal."
Even before the journey to Eugene begins, the Cougars already have to overcome an obstacle in their path: the loss of eight letterwinners.
"There are uncertainties because we have lost several key players," said Przekwas. "When the players step on the practice court October 13 everything is up in the air. Just about every position is wide open and questions will be answered by how hard the players compete."
Despite the loss of players, the Cougars will bring a mixture of experience and newcomers to the team in 2001-02. A total of seven letterwinners, including three seniors, return for the season.
"We have some good experience returning and a really high desire to win," said Przekwas. "I think those factors are in place with these seniors."
Leading the senior contingent is 5-foot-6 guard Jessica Collins. Collins' playing time was limited to four games last year as she was plagued by a left foot stress fracture. Due to her injury Collins earned a medical hardship from the Pac-10 and will return for her fifth season. The two other seniors, Brittney Hawks and Whitney Martindale, are junior college transfers who will bring Pac-10 experience learned from last year into this season.
Hawks returns as the team's leading scorer (8.9 ppg) and rebounder (5.2 rpg). The 6-foot-2 center saw time in all 28 games last year including 12 starts. She posted three double-doubles in points and rebounds including a season-high 20-point, 14-rebound effort at UCLA, March 8. Included in those 14 rebounds was a school record 11 offensive boards.
"Brittney enters her senior year more confident understanding what the Pac-10 level is here," said Przekwas. "She experienced an up and down season last year so I think she'll be much more prepared for her competition."
Martindale played in 25 games last season making eight starts. The 5-foot-10 guard/forward averaged 3.5 points a game and posted the team's first double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Samford, Dec. 29.
"They were juniors last year but it was their first shot at the Pac-10," said Przekwas of the transfers duo. "In many respects they were still newcomers. This year they are not. They know the ropes and I think we have two good players in our JC ranks."
The most experienced player returning to the Cougars is not a senior, however, it is junior Jessica Ottmar.
Ottmar - whose 51 career games played is the most of any returnee- made an appearance in every game last year. The 6-foot guard/forward started 22 games in 2000-01, which led all of the returning players.
"Ott has a tremendous work ethic," said Przekwas. "She continues to improve because of the time she spends in the off-season. I will look to her for leadership in practice and games."
Ottmar averaged five points a game, highlighted by a career-high 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting against Idaho, Dec. 2. Ottmar, who was the recipient of the team's strength and conditioning award after last season, rallied the team from a 13-point second half deficit to lead the Cougars to a 16-point win, marking the fourth largest comeback in the history of the program.
Egeland may have been the preeminent story of the 2000-01 season for the Cougars. Earning her way on the team as a walk-on in October, Egeland cracked the starting line-up Jan. 18 against Oregon State. That was the first of four consecutive starts before the 5-foot-9 guard was sidelined for the rest of the season by a third degree left ankle sprain suffered in practice.
Egeland finished the season averaging 2.1 points a game including a season-high eight points in what turned out to be her final game at Stanford, Jan. 27. Egeland's rise from walk-on to starter earned the Missoula native the team's most improved award.
Dugan played in 12 games last year making one start. The 5-foot-11 guard averaged 3.5 points a game including a combined 16 points in the final two games of the year at the Los Angeles schools. Although Dugan did not attempt the trey ball frequently, when she did she was often money, making 6-of-11 attempts from downtown (.545).
As a freshman, Fields gained a great deal of on the court experience making an appearance in 20 games. The 6-foot-2 forward averaged 2.2 rebounds last season and with the experience garnered from last year, Fields may be an even bigger nuisance for her opponents in 2001-02.
"Candace has made a lot of strides and we are looking for big things from her this season," said Przekwas.
"I think the freshmen are going to need to step up pretty quickly," said Przekwas. "How fast they adapt will be the key to how soon they can contribute."
Clevenger contributed greatly to her Caldwell (Idaho) High School squad in her senior season as she led the high school version of the Cougars to the A1 Division II state championship. The 6-foot forward averaged 12 points on 53 percent shooting (73-of-138) en route to earning the Idaho Statesman Division II Player of the Year award.
A pair of guards from Arizona come to the Palouse to shore up the losses suffered at that position, including the absence of Katie Nyseth, the 2000-01 team MVP and Pac-10 honorable mention selection.
McCurtain hails from Winslow High School at Winslow, Ariz. After her senior season the 5-foot-9 guard was named the Arizona Republic's Small School Player of the Year, which encompasses the 1A through 3A classifications in the state. In addition, McCurtain earned the Navajo Times Female Player of the Year as well as Winter Sports Athlete of the Year.
Perry is a 5-foot-6 guard from Phoenix's Shadow Mountain High School. Perry comes to WSU as her high school's all-time leader in points, steals and assists. Along with Collins, she will share the point guard duties on the team.
"The point guard spot will be a key for us," said Przekwas. "(Jessica) Collins is returning and she is going to bring experience and (Jessica) Perry is coming to us with great talent but a lot to learn. They should complement each other well."
The duo of McCurtain and Perry joins Fields as Arizona natives on the Cougar squad. The newcomers are rounded out by an international import, Emma Joneby. Joneby, a 6-foot-2 forward from Vesteras, Sweden, will provide a significant presence on the frontline for WSU.
"We feel quite fortunate to have Emma in the program," said Przekwas. "Pippa (Pierce) worked hard to sign her and we think she will make an impact."
The 2001-02 edition of the schedule once again features the always tough Pac-10 slate of opponents, however, like last year, the Cougars will not be spending all of the season in the Pacific Northwest.
While the team traveled east to Washington, D.C., and New York City during November of 2000, the squad will head west with a trip to Hawaii to participate in the Wahine Basketball Classic, Nov. 17-18. The Cougars will join Portland State, Texas A&M and the host University of Hawaii in the two-day tournament.
In addition to the Hawaii trip, the Cougars' non-conference schedule is highlighted by a trek to Utah to play BYU along with a journey across the Cascades to Seattle for the Pac-10/Big Ten Challenge. WSU will face Indiana and Michigan at the Challenge.
During the 2000-01 season, WSU faced six teams that advanced to the 2000 NCAA Tournament and eight teams the year before that. This season's schedule features five teams (Michigan, Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford, Washington) that made it to the 2001 dance.
An invitation to the Pac-10 party is guaranteed for the Cougars when March 2002 rolls around. But where they will be seated is to be determined by how the squad navigates the trail that leads to Eugene.