Cougar volleyball a source of family

Cougars rallied around Burdette Greeny, each other



The WSU women’s volleyball team celebrates after defeating CSU Bakersfield in an NCAA volleyball match, Sep. 2.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor

As over 3,000 people in a standing-room-only Bohler Gym eagerly watched each serve of the Apple Cup, Karly Basham knew exactly what she needed to do.

“I look around at my teammates and I say that I want to push through and I want to work hard for them no matter what type of pain I’m in,” senior libero Basham said.

Push through is exactly what she and her WSU volleyball teammates did to sweep University of Washington and finish the year with 22 wins, third place in the Pac-12 Conference and a program-record seventh-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.

A season that began with several top-25 losses strung together at an alarming rate thanks to season-ending injuries to the team’s middle blockers Shea Rubright and Jasmine Martin meant the Cougs were struggling with no traditionally trained middle blockers in a season that already seemed like an uphill battle in the typically dominant Pac-12 Conference.

Their turning point came in their first home conference game of the year. The Oregon Ducks came to town and with them was supposed to come a familiar face.

Following the previous season, Hannah Pukis, the team’s All-Pac-12 Conference setter, transferred to Oregon. Many doubted the Cougs’ ability to replace Pukis’ production, but Argentina Ung stepped in and is widely regarded as one of the best setters in the conference.

In the spring, WSU hired Sheri Sanders, a well-respected coach with a long history of helping setters succeed.

Ung’s success in a new role is thanks to her existing talent as the starting setter for the Mexico National Team and Sanders’ mentorship, Burdette Greeny, associate head coach and recruiting coordinator.

The Cougs played five dynamic sets against a Ducks squad that was without Pukis for unspecified reasons. They walked away with their first top-25 win of the year.

The offense gradually became more consistent down the stretch, allowing WSU to defeat teams they previously lost to, such as Colorado and UW.

“We have a mantra this year about one in a row, it’s actually from the Matthew McConaughey book  “Green Lights” and he talks about one in a row, just do one thing in a row, do that and then move onto the next, do it one in a row, do that and soon enough you have several consecutive [victories] in a row,” Burdette said.

Basham credited the team’s success to increased chemistry.

“This team’s super open, this team’s super accountable you know and I think that just building those interrelationships with each one of your teammates makes the whole big picture such a good family feel to it,” Basham said.

The family atmosphere is not lost on the younger players either. Sophomore Katy Ryan has had a lot of success over her first two years on the Palouse and credits her teammates for helping her stay focused.

“Every single person on this team, people that play, people that don’t, people who are hurt, we all contribute and we all have the same goals which is pretty rare and I love that about us,” Ryan said.

The night before the Apple Cup, their final regular season game of the season, the players gathered in the Greeny house to have Thanksgiving dinner, prepared by Jen Greeny herself.

With five players from outside the U.S. and each athlete away from home, spending Thanksgiving together was important for the players.

The family atmosphere on the team led to the five seniors including Basham, Pia Timmer, Magda Jehlarova, Julia Norville and Weronika Wojdyla who could have graduated from the program this season collectively choosing to play one more season on the Palouse.

The five seniors who decided to come back made a collective decision to go all-in on the next season and see how far they can go together, Basham said.

The largest challenge this family has and continues to face in 2022 is the health of one of their most treasured members.

The entire Cougar community was shocked to hear that Burdette, associate coach and Jen’s husband, had cancer.

Despite his cancer diagnosis, he made it clear he wanted to coach the team.

“Our team has had to face difficult challenges since the first day of the year. They have been tough, they have been resilient. I want to be with them. They are special and they make me better,” Burdette said in a video message posted to WSU volleyball’s Twitter.

Burdette told the team of his diagnosis a week prior to publicly announcing it. The team respected Burdette’s wishes and kept it a secret until he felt it was the proper time to share with the Cougar community.

“I’m thankful that we have this team, I’m thankful that we’re in season because it’s a distraction going on. It’s fun just to throw yourself into something, instead of wallowing around in your own brain and pretty much I’ve got nowhere to go, it’s either live or die and you chose to live and just throw yourself into whatever you’re doing,” Burdette said.

As recruiting director and Jen’s husband, Burdette is one of the first faces volleyball players see from the program.

Ever since recruitment and particularly in the 2022 season, Burdette has been a source of inspiration for many players.

“We can’t even tell. He does his best to just bring himself despite what he’s going through and he’s amazing at it and it’s definitely inspiring. We all really love him and appreciate the hard work he is putting in just to be who he is,” Ryan said.

“And even you know with Burdette’s situation and everything he shows up every day fighting and he exemplifies what it means to be a fighter and a warrior every single day,” Basham said. “And I think that we just feed off of that because his fight and his determination to get through what he’s going through impacts us too.”

Burdette chose to stay with the team because of their love and support for him.

“They’ve been unbelievable, I really cannot ask for anything more. When you’ve got a bunch of women to be honest, they take care of, they take care of you better than men do,” Burdette said.

“You’ve got a bunch of young women that have a heart and we’ve got great team chemistry and it’s not just the players, it’s the coaches and the team, it’s a really neat atmosphere. I can’t explain it. You’ve got to almost be inside of it to know it.” Burdette said.

The hardships the team faced throughout the season from injuries to two of their traditional middle blockers to Burdette’s health caused the team to grow closer to each other than they already were.

“When not great things happen sometimes you really gotta close your inner circle and be there for each other,” Jen said.