Jan. 25, 2000
PULLMAN, Wash. - The 1999-2000 edition of women's basketball at Washington State contains three freshmen on its roster. Though the trio are teammates now, each took a different path to becoming a member of this Cougar team.
Kelley Berglund, a 6-3 center from Port Angeles, was an early signee under former WSU Coach Harold Rhodes. Silverdale native Jessica Ottmar, a six-foot forward, signed late and is the only player on the current roster recruited by the Cougars' first-year head coach Jenny Przekwas. Five-nine guard Alison Eldridge from Yakima walked on to the team last fall.
"I was looking at a lot of different places, but I wanted to stay in state," Berglund said regarding her college choices. "After meeting the team and the old coaches and seeing the school, I knew I wanted to come here. I was really excited to sign early because I wanted to know where I was going to college during my entire senior year of high school."
The decision to sign early enabled Berglund to concentrate on her final year as a prep player and she went on to average 17.6 points and 13.6 rebounds per game to lead Port Angeles High to Olympic League and West Central District III championships. She earned an All-State first-team selection and was named co-most valuable player in the league along with Ottmar who played at Central Kitsap High.
Ottmar's decision to sign late with Washington State came after careful deliberation, but ultimately came down to family.
"Originally I was looking at small schools," Ottmar said. "Then I visited WSU and liked the location, the girls on the team and the environment. My grandparents live in Clarkston, my dad went to school here. Even though it's a bigger school, it has some small town qualities."
As for Eldridge, the Yakima native lettered in three sports at West Valley High before coming to WSU as a non-athlete.
"When I got out of high school, I didn't want to participate in sports," Eldridge said. "Then after a semester, I started to miss the competition."
The void motivated Eldridge to walk on to the track team last spring and she is currently third on the WSU depth chart in the triple jump. The success left Eldridge wanting more.
"I missed playing basketball, which was my favorite sport in high school," Eldridge said. So, I talked to the coaches during the summer and coach Przekwas said she would give me a chance to play."
In addition to the different paths taken by the trio, all three have played different roles for the Cougars this season.
Berglund played in each of WSU's 10 non-conference games and earned three starts. Ottmar also participated in each of the first 10 games, all off the bench while Eldridge's playing time has been limited to a pair of appearances off the bench.
In her first start at Toledo, Dec. 19, Berglund recorded eight points and a season-high 11 rebounds. She came off the bench to score a season-high 14 points and added eight boards against Saint Mary's, Dec. 30.
She is currently averaging 4.2 points and 4.2 rebounds and has registered seven blocks.
"My confidence is building," Berglund said. "It's helped to have some success. I am almost to the point where I feel I am confident enough to go there without worrying about making mistakes."
Berglund attributes her early success to the hard work and dedication of the Cougars' coaching staff.
"They (the coaches) are great people," Berglund said. "I really like them on and off the court. Coach Przekwas is really tough. She knows the team's and an individual's potential and makes us work to reach that potential."
Berglund is the team's only true center and that has translated into her learning under fire.
"Kelley has been asked to do a lot of things for us and she has responded well," Przekwas said. "Her size is something we need, especially in Pac-10 play."
Although Ottmar has not seen as much playing time as Berglund, she has shown signs of brilliance.
"Jess has done some good things for us this season," Przekwas said. "I see a lot of potential and we just have to develop that."
Ottmar poured in a season-high six points in 12 minutes versus Western Michigan, Nov. 26 and pulled down a season-high four rebounds in 12 minutes against Saint Mary's.
"I just try to bring energy to the floor and work hard," Ottmar said. "Sometimes things still seem new and uncomfortable. I'm still a freshman."
The adjustment from high school to college basketball has been a different one for Eldridge.
"I was nervous coming in about how I would be treated as a walk-on," Eldridge said. "But the team has been wonderful to me. The players have never treated me as a walk-on and that has been so nice."
Another adjustment for Eldridge has been the lack of playing time.
"I've never had to sit the bench," Eldridge said. "Practice is the way I have to prove myself because I know there are games I am not going to play in and I understand that. I just keep working hard because coach Przekwas gave me a chance to play so I can't complain."
Plans for the freshmen after college are as different as their paths to Pullman.
"Depending on how good I get, I might want to play over seas," Berglund said. "If not, I still want to do something basketball oriented, maybe coaching."
Ottmar said, "I always think change is a positive. A different path in your life and meeting new people is a definite plus. "I hope to become a dentist after college."
Eldridge's goals are more geared toward corporate America.
"I am majoring in merchandising and textile apparel with a minor in business," Eldridge said. I want to do something in corporate sales."
As different as the three are from one another, they do find themselves as teammates and part of a Cougar basketball program working hard to gain respect in the Pac-10.
By Craig Lawson