Ula Motuga: a foundation laid and a legacy left

Ula’s impact on WSU women’s basketball program



WSU forward Ula Motuga walks out with her family for senior night before an NCAA women’s basketball game against Oregon State, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen sports co-editor

WSU is not known as a basketball school. But if there is one thing Ula Motuga has done since coming to the Palouse, it is to help change that narrative.

Motuga, 22, is a fifth-year from Logan, Australia pursuing her master’s degree in sports management. In her tenure, she has rewritten the WSU record books and Sunday moved to eighth place in total rebounds in WSU women’s basketball history.

Aside from that, she is only four rebounds away from seventh place and on Sunday played her 127th career game, three shy of the most in WSU history. But when it comes to what Ula is the happiest with in her time here, it is bigger than herself.

“What has meant the most is growing relationships with fans who have supported us when in my freshman year when we had like no offense, we sucked, we didn’t win games, it was long seasons, but to see them now enjoy what we’ve been able to accomplish is special, it’s special for us players, it’s special for coach [Kamie Ethridge], but special for the people who have been invested in us in the start,” Motuga said.

The other WSU seniors Emma Nankervis and Grace Sarver along with Motuga have been able to change the look of basketball in Pullman and build a foundation for the program, and that is what Motuga is most proud of.

“We’ve been able to build a culture where I guess success is now a thing and I’m excited to see what Charlisse and the rest of us can do in the future,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing, is that now moving forward, people are more invested in and they’re like, ‘This team is good.'”

Ula is one of the biggest and most vocal leaders on the team, said teammate Charlisse Leger-Walker. She said Motuga and the senior class have made the transition for young players much easier.

“We’re really really close and she’s been like a big sister figure to me,” Leger-Walker said. “It’s so much easier to come into a culture when, you know, ground rules and values and all of that have already been laid out and we just have to adjust to that we’re not the ones having to really hold each other accountable because they already are doing that for us.”

Leger-Walker explained how much Motuga means to her. She said she loves and appreciates her very much. 

Motuga is all about family and loyalty, she would die for her people and is loyal and committed to the coaching staff and her teammates, head coach Kamie Ethridge said. She and the rest of the seniors did not have character issues they had to deal with, they are all great people.

Motuga does not always put up the craziest stat lines but is devoted to the cause and is an X-factor for the team who always brings more than the stat sheet shows, Ethridge said.

“She is always gonna be on the court because of IQ and all the ways that she can help us win without scoring, she is a unique player I think she’s someone that really worries opponents, they have to plan for (her), all of a sudden they look at the stat sheet and she has 10 or 12 points,” Ethridge said. “She’s such a rock star on and off the court and in the locker room.”

Motuga has been part of the Cougar’s first two teams to make the NCAA tournament since 1991 and this year helped the team sweep both Oregon schools for the first time in over 30 years. With the foundation now laid, Motuga looks to help the team finish the last two games strong and go on a run in her final NCAA tournament this year.