Cougar women are turning corner, says Murrell

THE WAY SHERRI MURRELL sees it, she isn't rebuilding the WSU women's basketball program. She's laying the foundation, putting in the beams, doing the framing, stringing the wires and welding state-of-the-art copper pipes. This is no rebuilding. This is a ground-up major construction project. The progress --- while not perceptible in the won-loss column --- is demonstrable.

"This program has had only one Pac-10 winning season in 19 years," Murrell said at a recent dinner gathering of Cougar fans in Seattle. "It is a building process, not rebuilding."

Though the team has gone 6-22 each of the last two seasons and won only two games in Murrell's first year at the helm, she believes things have moved forward.

"Last year didn't equate to wins like I wanted, but it was progress," she said. "In 2002 we were losing by 22 points a game. Last year we had 10 games within eight points. We just need to convert some of those to wins."

She's looking for more of those conversions this season.


KATE BENZ

The Cougs will be led by 6-2 junior forward Kate Benz, a Portland product who quickly is becoming the most celebrated female hoop talent on the Palouse since Jenny Ruff in the 1990s. Benz was All-Pac-10 honorable mention and first-team all-academic last season.

She led the conference in rebounding with 9.1 per game and led the Cougars on offense with a 10.5 points per game average. Benz also turned in 15 double-digit scoring games, to go along with 11 double-digit rebounding efforts.

In addition, WSU's other top two scorers from last season are back: 5-6 senior guard Charmaine Jones and 6-0 junior guard Adriane Ferguson.


FERGUSON


JONES

Jones, from Los Angeles, started 21 games a year ago and averaged 9.3 points per game, including a career-high 26 at USC. She is a 74 percent free-throw shooter.

Ferguson, from Spokane's Mead High, started 26 games a year ago and scored in double figures 14 times. She averaged 9.5 points per game and was among the top three-point shooters in the Pac-10. She's also an all-academic performer.

Also returning is 6-2 senior center Keisha Moore. She started 10 games in 2004-05 and averaged 7.6 points and 6 rebounds per game. She was fourth in the Pac-10 in blocks, averaging 1.20 per game.

Back in the fold this season will be Nikki Stratton, a promising guard from Colorado Springs who redshirted last season with a foot injury. As a true freshman in 2003-04 she saw action in 23 games and started six times. She averaged 7.5 points in the games she started. She also nailed 13 treys that year.

MURRELL, WHO SIGNED a contract extension earlier this year that keeps her at the helm of the Cougar program through the 2010 season, is very high on her incoming class of freshmen: Ebonee Coates (6-4, Tacoma), Amanda DuRocher (5-9, Spanaway), Katie Appleton (5-8, Bear Lake, Calif.), Heather Molzen (6-3, Lakeside, Calif.) Sabrina Shired (6-4, Petaluma, Calif.).

Coates, a center, is the most touted Cougar recruit since Benz three years ago. A three-year starter at Curtis High, she led her team to a 40-10 record over her junior and senior seasons and was picked one the nation's top 100 prep prospects by Blue Star Index. Averaging double-digits in scoring and rebounding, she also was a finalist for McDonald's All-America recognition.

With this group, coupled with the returning talent, Murrell says she is "seeing the flickering light at the end of the tunnel. I don't know how many wins that is going to equate to (this season), but I'm excited. This is probably the first time since I've been here I'm really excited."

Murrell, who calls herself "100 percent a Coug," knew she had a tall challenge when she took the job in 2002 following the disastrous tenure of Jenny Przekwas. "But we have some talent," she said. "Every day is a hard work day for the girls."

Murrell won't offer up a prediction for this year's record, but is confident the program is headed in the right direction.

"We are going to make this a winning program, I guarantee you," she said.


"100 percent Coug," Murrell tells Seattle audience.

STARTING HER FOURTH YEAR as WSU's coach, Murrell had nothing but praise for the support she's received from President V. Lane Rawlins and Athletic Director Jim Sterk.

"Jim and President Rawlins saw the situation and said ‘Sherri, you need time,'" Murrell recalled. "That's priceless. Jim did something unusual in our field. Most athletic directors want it done now. Jim is at the practices with us. He knows where we've been. I want to thank Jim for the extension he gave me."

"You've got to have the right individuals in place," Sterk said. "You support them where you can. Sherri can do the job. She's anxious to do it – she wanted it done yesterday. I don't want to put pressure on her. It's not all about the wins and losses. It's about our student athletes having a great experience."

Sterk believes the foundation Murrell is building for the future is the proper way of doing things. "She's done it right," Sterk said. "Because of that, when the program is winning it will be all the sweeter."

NOTABLE NOTES:

* Attendance at WSU home games has grown by 86 percent since Murrell arrived in Pullman.

RECRUITING NEWS

IT'S COUGS OVER CAL

Murrell lands star point guard

Colleen Betteridge, a 5-foot-8 lefty who will play at Sealth High in Seattle this season after three years at Redmond High, recently committed verbally to the Cougars, HoopGurlz.com reported. One of Betteridge's select coaches said the playmaker cancelled the remainder of her official visits. Betteridge, believed to have narrowed her list to WSU and Cal, was a second-team KingCo all-star selection last season.

* Freshman guard Amanda DuRocher finished her prep career as Bethel High's all-time 3-point leader and led her team in points and steals for three straight years. But her name is perhaps most familiar to readers of the sports page because older brother Johnny was a touted quarterback at Bethel who played Oregon before transferring to Washington.

* The Cougars have adopted a Louisiana family displaced by Hurricane Katrina. In addition, Murrell has a program in place to help financially needy families attend Cougar games. "We need more people in the stands. If you have tickets but can't go, let me know. I give them to families in Pullman who can't afford them."

* Murrell was in Seattle, along with men's basketball coach Dick Bennett and athletic director Jim Sterk, for "A Night with WSU Basketball" celebration at Salty's on Alki in West Seattle. The event, sponsored by The Village Pub in Magnolia, raised more than $5,000 for the WSU Student-Athlete Scholarship Fund.

* The Cougars open the season with two exhibition games at home, against Baden Sports on Oct. 31 and Lewis-Clark on Nov. 11, before getting into regular action Nov. 18 and Nov. 20 at home against Pepperdine and St. Marys, respectively. They open the Pac-10 season at home against Stanford on Dec. 20.

* More information on Cougar women's basketball can be found at the Cougar women's basketball home page.

* For Cougfan.com's preview of the 2005-06 Cougar men's hoop team , click to Bennett says patience will pay off

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