“What a great lady,” says one Cougar fan. “She is so great to work with,” offers up a WSU employee.
Even her rivals are on the bandwagon. “She’ll get it turned around,” said one recently.
“It” is the long-suffering women’s basketball program of Washington State. Daugherty, an eternal optimist who is convinced she can turn lemons into lemonade, is six months away from starting her third season on the Palouse, but she sounds ready to go right now.
“If I sat here and told you our goal wasn’t to win the (Pac-10) championship, then Jim Sterk would walk in here and fire me in the next two minutes,” Daugherty said recently in an interview with CF.C. “It’s not just lip service; I really believe that.”
Sterk, WSU’s athletic director, hired Daugherty two years ago to rescue a program that has spent more time in the cellar than granny’s jelly.
Daugherty was hired too late to work her recruiting magic in 2007-08, when the Cougars finished 5-25 (2-16 Pac-10) and came in last in the Pac-10 for the third straight year.
But after bringing in the 16th-ranked recruiting class in the country a year ago, the Cougars improved to 11-19 (4-14 Pac-10) and moved up to eighth place this past season. Those are the best overall and conference records at WSU since 2000-01, and the highest conference finish in a decade.
“Every day, it just gets better and better in the Palouse,” Daugherty said. “We’re excited about the direction of the program.
“We’re working hard to bring along this young group. We were obviously the youngest team in the conference this year.
“We had a great spring with skill and strength and fitness work. We just sent ’em home for about a month. We can’t wait for them to get back here for summer school and start working with them some more.”
The Cougars return three players who started most of the season as true freshmen: leading scorer April Cook (14 points per game), No. 2 scorer and assists and steals leader Jazmine Perkins (13.8 ppg) and No. 4 scorer and No. 3 rebounder Rose Tarnowski (7.0 and 5.3). In addition, two other true freshmen, Danielle Lenoir and Lexie Pettersen, played signifcantly.
WSU has lost leading 3-point shooter Katie Appleton and leading rebounders Heather Molzen and Ebonee Coates to graduation. However, another heralded recruiting class includes 6-foot-5 Carly Noyes from Moses Lake and 6-4 Razz Muir from Australia. They will join a frontcourt that includes 6-8 Jessica Oestreicher, a freshman last season who was hobbled for much of the campaign by a knee injury.
Besides Noyes and Muir, Daugherty has two other touted recruits coming in this year: 5-8 point guard
from San Francisco and 5-10 swingman Ireti Amojo from Germany. Moore was an ESPN national "top 60" prospect this past season and starred for a 33-0 team that was declared the national prep champions by USA Today two seasons ago. Amojo has played for national age-group teams in Germany.
Amojo spent 2006-07 as an exchange student at Auburn-Riverside, teaming up with Katie Grad (a Cougar swingman who redshirted last season as a freshman due to a foot injury) to help the Ravens win the State 3A title.
As usual, it doesn’t take much to get Daugherty talking about her players.
Cook and Perkins: “They were one and two in scoring for all the freshmen in this incredible league ... for them to put up those numbers against some amazing competition in the Pac-10 really tells you a lot about our ability to get some great kids here and also their ability to perform at a very high level. It’s just going to keep getting better and better, but they’re sure off to a great start.”
Tarnowski: “I thought it was really unusual to see a freshman like Rosie Tarnowski really step into a leadership role so early in her career. She is adored and respected by her teammates and obviously the coaching staff. She has a great knowledge of the game.”
Noyes: “A long, lean greyhound. Can run the floor and really get into our pressing scheme and our running scheme probably better than just about any front-line kid that we’ve had the opportunity to recruit in the last several years. Great kid.”
Muir: “She’s a kid who’s very physical. I think she’ll give us a great presence inside. At the same time, because she’s played that international basketball style, she’s very comfortable shooting the 3-point shot. She runs the floor very, very well.”
Moore: “This is a point guard who is special in every way. Defensively, she’ll take the ball from anybody, anytime, anywhere. Offensively, boy, I’ll tell you, she’s going to make everybody in a Cougar uniform look good because she gives you the ball right when you need it, and she sees the floor just about as good as any kid I’ve ever seen.”
Amojo: “Great first step, and somebody who can really get on the glass for us and get us into our running game. Defensively, she’s just going to stalk people.”
Grad: “She is one tough customer. We are thrilled to have her healthy. I want her toughness out there, her talented package of play and her ability to lead. This is a kid who’s not going to back down. She’ll fight for every inch.”
Daugherty would have talked up every other player on the roster, but even Daugherty has to show a bit of caution when talking about dramatic strides in the Pac-10. This year, Stanford lost to Connecticut in the national title game, Arizona State reached the Elite Eight and California made the Sweet 16.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Daugherty said. “We’ve made some gains.
“We’re starting to climb that Pac-10 ladder. We’ve got a long way to go. We certainly respect the people who are in our conference.”
True, but Daugherty expects her team to gain respect next season by unleashing a steady diet of full-court pressure now that she has perhaps the most depth and athleticism in school history. Moore is penciled in at the point so Cook can be freed up to spend more time focusing on scoring. Daugherty raves about the work that recruiting coordinator Brian Holsinger and strength and conditioning coach David Lang have done for her program.
Daugherty isn’t making any daring predictions about next season -- at least for public consumption -- but she did say, “I believe anything can happen if we can just keep getting better every day.
“We’ve got to be ‘point on’ as teachers (WSU’s coaches). We have to be very positive and very specific about what we want these young people to do.
“If we can do that and stay healthy and we have the depth that I think we’re going to have with the talent package with all of these kids, then look out. Bring it on. That’s all I’m going to say.”
A terrific YouTube video is up that captures the essence of where Daugherty is taking Cougar women's basketball. Accompanied by a song whose lyrics include "say goodbye to the past, the future is here at last," the clip shows off the athleticism the Cougars now possess. The clip can be found HERE.
This past season Perkins was named, Pac-10 All-Freshman, All-Pac-10 honorable mention, and Pac-10 All-Defensive honorable mention. She is the conference's first women's basketball player in a decade to earn such a trifecta. Cook was no slouch herself, earning All-Freshman and All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors.
UPDATED 6/8 -- Beginning Sunday, Sept. 13 Daugherty will be holding clinics for both girls and boys at Bohler Gym. Girls in grades first through eighth, and boys in grades first through sixth are all invited to attend the free clinics.
DATES -- Sunday, Sept. 13; Sunday, Sept. 20; Sunday, Sept. 27; Sunday, Oct. 4
TIMES -- Grades 1-4; 2-3:30 p.m.; Grades 5-8; 3:30-5 p.m.
For more information on the free clinics, please call assistant coach Mo Hines at 509-335-0290, or check the women’s basketball page at wsucougars.com.