When is being picked to finish sixth in your conference a sign of progress? When you are Washington State and a sixth-place finish would constitute a significant move up the Pac-10 ladder. The Cougars haven’t finished higher than seventh in the Pac-10 since the late 80’s. But June Daugherty’s slow build in the Palouse looks like it is taking hold. She’s brought 12 new players into the program in the past two years and entering her third season, expectations are new as well. Moving this program, moribund for so many years, to the middle of the Pac-10 pack would be a huge achievement.
“It’s exciting,” said Daugherty, who led WSU to double-digit wins last season for the first time since 2000-2001. “The players are talented and athletic and they are picking up things quickly.”
Leading the revival are sophomore guards April Cook and Jazmine Perkins, who were the team’s two top scorers from a year ago. Both ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring among freshmen.
“They have definitely gotten better,” Daugherty said. “We are finally going to be able to play a style of play that we sat down and talked about in the beginning.”
Daugherty thinks her team will be deep enough in the backcourt to ratchet up the defensive pressure. She’s looking for a high-pressure, up-and-down game from her team, with the ability to wear opponents out on both ends of the floor.
Cook and Perkins are clearly the building blocks. They were two of the three regular freshman on the floor a year ago, the other being forward Rosie Tarnowski, the Philadelphia product who started 20 games.
Daugherty said Tarnowski is rounding into a leader.
“She really understands the game, and like a lot of east-coasters, she talks a lot,” Daugherty said. “But the team really looks to Rosie.”
Katie Grad, a redshirt freshman who sat out last season with a foot injury, is projected to be back out on the floor. And Katie Madison, a transfer from Idaho, should see lots of time. Madison, a 6-0 forward, is a redshirt junior. She averaged 19.0 points a game for the Vandals as a freshman and 14.1 points in her sophomore season.
“I don’t think people realize she’s transferred here,” Daugherty said.
The incoming freshman class constitutes one of the nation’s top 20 recruiting classes, led by Ki-Shawna Moore, the 5-8 guard from San Francisco and 6-foot-5 center Carly Noyes from Moses Lake, Washington.
Daugherty is heartened by not only her team’s improving status, but by the fact that she seems to be having success selling Pullman as a destination for student-athletes.
“I think the Pac-10 is going to be a way better league this year and it’s nice that the other coaches are recognizing what we’ve done here,” Daugherty said. “We’ve brought in a lot of new faces, and what’s interesting to me is we were able to go and get a Philly kid, a kind out of Minnesota, Los Angeles. That’s pretty far from the Palouse, but we’ve been able to bring kids in.
“They are finding it to be a gem, they really are. They tell me that had no idea how beautiful the campus is. There are not a lot of true college towns still out there.”
Daugherty is one of the most glass-half-full folks you’ll find in the game. And she said the first week of practice has left her “giddy.”
“As a staff, we are talking about who impresses us that day, how we didn’t realize a player was that quick,” Daugherty said. “Having so many new faces, it’s great to put them in the gym and see what we have. And what we have it pretty good, so far.”