And never mind the fact only one Cougar team in history has competed in the NCAA tournament (1991), or no team has had a winning record since 1996 (17-12), or the fact WSU is 0-46 against Stanford and 17-57 against Washington. Daugherty’s glass-half-full attitude is filled to overflowing.
“The change in culture of women’s basketball (at WSU) is very apparent, just by the strengthening that we’ve seen, how hard the players are working and the conditioning levels of where they’re at this early in the season,” Daugherty said by telephone from Pullman.
“I think we have a chance to have a really special year, just because it’s the second year with this group, and they know what we’re trying to accomplish offensively and defensively, and the fact we’ve added some really important pieces to our puzzle with some very athletic and very talented players who know nothing other than how to win.”
Daugherty is quick to credit the returning players for their willingness to adapt to a new system last season and for their enthusiasm in helping recruit new players and then helping them adjust to college life during the summer, when every player was on campus earning credits, working out and playing informal hoops.
But it’s the seven freshman players -- “the important pieces to our puzzle” -- who are providing the basis for much of Daugherty’s optimism. Collectively, the newcomers are considered by Blue Star Basketball to be the 16th best recruiting class in the country, a level of recognition none of Daugherty’s WSU coaching predecessors came close to achieving.
The Scintillating Seven are April Cook, 5-8, from Carson, Calif., and a graduate of Long Beach Poly; Katie Grad, 5-8, of Lake Tapps and Auburn-Riverside; Danielle LeNoir, 5-6, Los Angeles (Narbonne); Jazmine Perkins, 5-10, Berkeley, Calif. (Berkeley High); Jessica Oestreicher, 6-8, Shasta Lake, Calif.; Rosie Tarnowski, 6-1, Philadelphia and Lexie Pettersen, 6-1, Spokane (Shadle Park).
So, how do you convince apparently very talented players from such geographically diverse areas that Washington State is the place to be? The answer, Daugherty pointed out, is that you get some help and you get some breaks along the way; that she and her assistant coaches, including her husband, Mike, were diligent in their pursuits. Together, those elements conspired into a sort of perfect recruiting storm leading to signatures on letters of intent.
When Cook’s father, Brian, played football at USC he twice played in Pullman. Daugherty said he told her that he “loved the town, I love how safe it is -- no graffiti, no crime, no gangs. I’d really like my daughter to visit your school.”
Visit made, letter signed.
Daugherty said Tarnowski’s father is a good friend of Doug Thomas, a staunch Cougar booster in Bellingham. “He e-mailed me and said ‘my best friend’s daughter is pretty good,’” Daugherty said. “We followed up and ended up signing the Philadelphia player of the year.”
Danielle LeNoir? Her sister, Camille, is an outstanding guard at USC, but the Trojan coach, Mark Trakh, said he didn’t feel he could recruit Danielle because he had so many guards returning. “But he went to her family and spoke well of Mike and I and said you should really take a hard look at Washington State because they play a style that (Danielle) would be good at,” Daugherty said.
The result was another signature.
Perkins committed to WSU before she ever visited the campus because “she liked the idea of coming to a Pac-10 school where she might have a chance to play right away,” Daughety said. “Once she got up here and saw all the academic support she fell in love with the total picture.”
At 6-8, Oestreicher is the tallest player Daugherty’s every coached and who might be the tallest to ever play in the Pac-10. “From everything I’ve seen she’s a quick study, she’s hungry and determined to learn and contribute this year,” Daugherty said.
Grad, the most valuable player of the Class 3A state tournament after leading Auburn-Riverside to consecutive state championships, is a member of a Cougar family. She committed to WSU when Daugherty’s predecessor, Sherri Murrell, was still the coach.
Pettersen, a record-setting scorer and rebounder from Spokane, plays bigger than she is and “is another quick study,” Daugherty said.
Not to be overlooked in the recruiting process is Tony Bennett, the Cougars’ successful men’s coach “who is an amazing partner,” Daugherty said.
She pointed out that Bennett, by simply telling the women’s recruits of the factors that led him to reject lucrative offers from other schools and stay in Pullman, answered positively their questions about WSU.
And don’t forget, Daugherty said, that she signed a seven-year contract with WSU after she was fired by Washington, a gesture that satisfies recruits’ concerns about program continuity.
“I can’t tell you how much that has meant for recruiting,” Daugherty said.
ALL THESE TOUTED FRESHMEN join a team that loses only one player from its 2007-08 roster. The veterans are led by senior guard and captain Kate Appleton (Big Bear Lake, Calif.), who earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors last season after averaging 12 points per game and ranking second in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage.
In the post, two seniors -- Heather Molzen of Lakeside, Calif., and Ebonee Coates of Tacoma -- look to cap their careers on a high note. Molzen became the first women’s basketball player in school history to start 30 games in a season in 2007-08. The 6-3 forward averaged 6.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, nearly doubling each of her previous career highs, respectively. Coates is a 6-4 center who missed half of last season to injuries but still averaged a team-best 6.8 rebounds, 7.1 points and more than one block per game. She’s fully healthy now.
Four other returnees who look to build on notable campaigns a year ago are junior Alexa Price and sophomores Kezia Kelly (25 starts), Katie Calderwood (20 starts) and Jasmine Williams (23 starts).
Kelly, a 5-6 guard from New Zealand, earned Pac-10 All-Freshman honorable mention last season after she averaged 5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 0.7 steals per game. She led WSU with 66 assists, and ranked 12th in the conference in minutes played (31.32 per game).
The Cougars will begin practicing today. Exhibition games are scheduled in Pullman on Nov. 2 and 9. The season-opener at Texas Tech is Nov. 16.
2009 CLASS TAKING SHAPE
Daugherty last month secured a verbal committment for her 2009 class of recruits from 6-foot-5 Moses Lake senior Carly Noyes, a big-time post presence known for solid footwork and great defense. And earlier this week, ESPN.com reported that 5-8 guard Ki-shawna Moore, from the same San Francisco high school that produced Jason Hill, verbally committed as well. She is considered one of the top prospects in the West. Her Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep team is defending state division III champion.
Noyes is a two-time MVP of the Columbia Basin League who last season led her team to a runner-up finish in the 4A state tourney. She averaged 18.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. She chose WSU over Gonzaga and others.
Earlier this year, Daugherty secured a verbal commit from 5-10 wing Ireti Amojo. She hails from Germany, but is no stranger to the state of Washington, having played as an exchange student two years ago with Katie Grad on Auburn-Riverside's 2007 state championship team.
With Moore, Noyes and Amojo in the fold, Daugherty has one scholarship left to fill in her 2009 class.
A new booster organization -- The Cougar Pawz Club -- is being launched at WSU to support the women's basketball team. There are three levels of membership, ranging from $100 to $500. Some of the perks include opportunities to visit with players, chalk talks with June D. and her staff, an official t-shirt and more. The money will help support the team in a variety of ways, including summer foreign tours, academic assistance and film editing equipment. To join, call 509-335-0276.
THE GANG'S ALL HERE: Pre-season smiles abound with the 2008-09 Cougars.