Daugherty says you won't want to miss this

PULLMAN -- Seven players returning, including star guards Lia Galdeira and Tia Presley. Seven new freshmen, who make up what June Daugherty calls her best recruiting class ever. How high will the Cougs fly this year? We went to Daugherty for answers.

You could say last season was a Cinderella year for the WSU women’s basketball team. However, the 2014-15 season will be a special one Cougar fans will not want to miss, according to head coach June Daugherty.

A 90-78 loss to Montana in the first round of the WNIT last season served as a disappointing end to what was a substantial step forward for a long-suffering women’s basketball program. June Daugherty said her team learned from the final game and has put the loss behind them.

“That’s been a good thing (to forget the loss to Montana) because we don’t like to dwell on the past,” Daugherty said. “We’re motivated to play hard for each other and to represent Washington State and that’s motivation enough.

“We don’t need negative things to motivate us. We’re a very prideful group, at the same time very humble and (who) wants to go out there and do the absolute best they can do to represent something that’s way bigger than us and that’s the Washington State Cougars.”

Besides the long hours of recruiting this offseason, Daugherty has another big task to accomplish this summer which is to mold seven freshmen and seven returning players from last season into one team. The seventh WSU women’s basketball coach stressed how important it has been, and continues to be, for the veteran players to show leadership towards the freshmen this summer.

“That’s a big part of it for us because we only get to work with them about eight hours a week,” Daugherty said. “We’re not around them (the freshmen) very much, but our upperclassmen certainly are. They have an opportunity to really create that bond and trust and respect with those kids and build from there. “That helps with the integration of so many new faces into a team that are pretty excited about the success they had, but they want more and they realize they (the upperclassmen) have to bring these younger kids along because they are a very talented group -- but this isn’t high school anymore. Pac-12 basketball is a whole different animal so they have to help them (the freshmen) get ready for it.”

As of Thursday, five of the seven freshmen from the 2014 recruiting class are enrolled in classes at WSU this summer and are training with the upperclassmen. Freshmen center Bianca Blanaru and freshmen guard Pinelopi Pavlopoulou will join the team later in the summer, said Daugherty.

“Just talking to them (the five in Pullman), they are really excited about all the things to see and do here because it’s a different place for a lot of them,” Daugherty said. “I think they’re kind of learning the lay of the land a little bit by taking a couple classes and finding out ‘Boy, academically things go a little bit faster here at this level.’ They’re doing a good job and I think they’re having a lot of fun. I think Washington State does a great job of building in an amazing support system for all our students but especially our freshmen.”

When asked about what the starting rotation will look like for the Cougars this upcoming season, Daugherty demurred, saying she is not a situation right now to determine a set rotation and more focused on teaching fundamentals, trying to improve the upperclassmen and waiting for Blanaru and Paylopoulou to arrive in Pullman.

Another task Daugherty will have to face this season is to replace former WSU guard/forward Sage Romberg. Romberg finished third on the team in scoring at 9.1 points a game and was second in rebounding with 5.9 per game last season. Daugherty says that Cougar fans were spoiled by seeing someone 6-1 produce as much as she did -- both inside and out.

“I think the professional contract that she just signed to play in Madrid, Spain, just speaks volume about what a top level kid she was nationally,” Daugherty said. So it’s going to be tough (to replace her( because you can always count on her to hit the big three and obviously she took up a lot of space length defensively and came up with some really key passes and rebounds for us in her career here at Washington State.

“I don’t know about replacing people but we’ve just got to get better and everybody’s got to improve and we’ll see who fills those roles that Sage left with -- those are big shoes people are going to have to try and fulfill.”

Speaking of big shoes, Daugherty said Presley is having a phenomenal offseason and is working harder than she’s ever seen Presley work on her conditioning and strength. According to Daugherty, Presley is in the gym every day this summer and is showing great leadership.

“I’m just really proud of her, I think that she’s really stepped it up,” Daugherty said. “Of course everyone was happy with the result that we had last year and the improvement of the program, but she wants us to be great and she wants us to be in the championship and that’s why you love Tia Presley because she is such a competitor.”

Presley gave a preseason prediction to the Daily Evergreen that the Cougars were going to win the NCAA Tournament this season.

“The biggest key for that is that you have to understand how much work you have to put in to earn it and I think Tia does understand that and so when she makes a statement like that I think it gives everyone an idea that she’s willing to put everything out there,” Daugherty said. “Put it on the line and everybody just needs to follow her because she knows that we’re talented, we have a lot of confidence in the program, the coaches, her teammates and I think that’s an easy person to follow right now.”

Daugherty believes Presley and Lia Galdeira have an opportunity to make history with this program and are on track join Cougar legends Jenni Ruff and Jeanne Eggart. But Daugherty also touched on how unselfish her two star players.

“As good as they are, as efficient they are with their stats, Lia with the steals and scoring or Tia with the rebounding and scoring, is they will all give that up for this team to win,” Daugherty said. “If that’s what it takes, they will give it up. They are team-first people all the way and that’s rare for kids that are as good as they are.”

And as much focus will be on Galdeira and Presley, WSU has senior center/forward Shalie Dheensaw (6-4) and junior F Mariah Cooks (6-0), two underrated but key cogs, back this season as well.

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