Kamie Ethridge guides Wazzu to glory

Olympic Gold Medal experience, stellar recruitment makes Ethridge incredible coach


Courtesy of WSU Athletics

WSU head coach Kamie Ethrige hoists the Pac-12 Championship trophy as her WSU women’s basketball team celebrates after beating UCLA 65-61 in the Pac-12 Championship, March 5, 2023 in the Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor

Kamie Ethridge proved that WSU can win championships in today’s college sports landscape.

In 2023, WSU women’s basketball won the program’s first Pac-12 Conference Championship (and WSU’s first Conference Championship in any women’s sport) with arguably the most talented roster the program has ever seen. The Cougs qualified for their third consecutive NCAA Tournament and despite once again being one and done, the nation took notice.

The Athletic named Ethridge their 2023 Women’s College Basketball Coach of the Year and Team USA announced that Ethridge would serve as the head coach for the 2023 USA Women’s AmeriCup Team trials, which were played May 11–15.

Ethridge will coach Team USA at the 2023 FIBA Women’s AmeriCup, July 1-9 in León, Mexico.

WSU ensured that Ethridge felt the appreciation such accomplishments deserve by giving her a one-year contract extension, keeping her in Pullman through the 2028–29 season.

The Cougs equaled their program-best regular season win total from the 2021–22 season with 19 wins and won four games in five days at the Pac-12 Tournament to set a program record with 23 wins, surpassing the 1978–79 team’s record of 21.

After five years in Pullman, Ethridge owns a 74-75 overall record, but a 42-22 mark over the last two seasons.

Winning is far from new to her.

Ethridge won the 1986 National Championship as a member of the Texas Longhorns and won four gold medals with Team USA, including the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.

As a coach, she started at her alma mater Texas as a graduate assistant in 1987. She served as a GA at Northern Illinois University in 1989–90 and was hired as an assistant for 1990–91.

She was an assistant at Vanderbilt from 1991–96 and was associate head coach at Kansas State from 1996–2014.

After over a quarter century of coaching, Ethridge got her first head coach gig at Northern Colorado University, where she guided the program to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2018.

Later that year, WSU hired her.

On Ethridge’s 2018 Northern Colorado tournament team was a talented Kiwi player named Krystal Leger-Walker.

Leger-Walker moved halfway across the globe with the idea that Ethridge would not accept another job. Despite Ethridge breaking this promise, Leger-Walker did not hold onto any hard feelings and in 2020, joined Ethridge at Wazzu.

That same year, her sister Charlisse Leger-Walker committed to WSU and the head coach with the golden resume and her sister stars transformed the program on the Palouse into one of college basketball’s rising powers.

WSU guard Charlisse Leger-Walker dribbles the ball during an NCAA basketball game against Cal, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

Ula Motuga was heavily considering Northern Colorado in 2018 because of Ethridge. When Ethridge accepted the job at WSU, Motuga was invited to join her.

Five years later, Motuga leaves WSU women’s basketball with a program record 132 games started.

“I was ready to go play for a smaller school and then she’s like ‘Come with me! I’ve been given a chance at Washington State,’
and before I even knew what WSU looked like I was like Oh yeah, I’m there,’ and then I got there and it’s nothing but wheat fields,” Motuga said. “I’m super grateful for the chance she gave me to come out to Pullman and a chance to change the whole thing around and like she always says, make basketball relevant in a city where it hasn’t always been.”

WSU forward Ula Motuga hugs WSU women’s basketball head coach Kamie Ethridge while leaving the court during her last game in Beasley Coliseum, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

A discussion of Ethridge’s success is incomplete without the context of WSU women’s basketball and the Cougars’ late head coach June Daugherty.

YULING LIU | Daily Evergreen file
WSU Head Coach June Daugherty talks to her team in the Jan. 27 game against Stanford. WSU lost 87-44.

Daughtery laid the groundwork for a successful women’s basketball program in Pullman with three Women’s National Invitational Tournament appearances and by recruiting talented players such as Borislava Hristova and Chanelle Molina. 

Hristova, otherwise known as “BobiBuckets” is the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,269 points over five seasons (2015–20). Mollina is in the top 10 all-time with 1,364 points over four seasons (2016–20).

Senior Forward Borislava Hristova sprints past a Utah defender as she goes for a lay up on Sunday evening at Beasley Coliseum.

Ethridge set herself apart at Wazzu through the recruitment of the Leger-Walker sisters, Motuga and Bella Murekatete, a 6-foot-3 center from Rwanda, who played high school ball in Post Falls, Idaho.

Daugherty was also interested in recruiting Murekatete to the program. When Ethridge took over, she ensured Murekatete that she still had a place in Pullman.

WSU center Bella Murekatete celebrates during an NCAA women’s basketball game against Oregon State, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

“[Ethridge] really cares about you as a person and that impresses me,” Murekatete said. “She wants everyone around her to try to help her players and not just in basketball but really in general.”

Ethridge, like any coach, expects a lot from her players. However, her methods for holding her players to those high expectations are often effective.

“I am probably harsh and demanding and I have great expectations on our team and so it was urgent to not keep self-inflicting ourselves with turnovers or bad decisions or giving in to the pressure that we were facing,” Ethridge said after WSU beat Colorado and punched its ticket to the first Pac-12 Championship in program history, March 3.

Along with high expectations, Ethridge is not afraid to have fun with her team and embrace the Cougars’ family atmosphere.

With eight countries represented on the team’s 13-person 2022–23 roster, the team spent a lot of time together hanging out and singing Karaoke.

Courtesy of Dean Hare, WSU Photo Services
Head coach Kamie Ethridge speaks to her WSU women’s basketball team during an NCAA basketball game in Pullman Dec. 30, 2022

Ethirdge embraced the team’s affinity for karaoke and when one of the team’s favorite songs, Shania Twain’s “Man! I feel like a Woman!” was played during one of their games, Ethirdge paused the mid-game huddle and encouraged her team to sing along.

The Cougs won that game, marking the first time in program history WSU beat UCLA in Pauley Pavillion. One week later they beat UCLA again in the Pac-12 Championship in Las Vegas.

Courtesy of Beyonce Bea
Head coach Kamie Ethridge welcomes Idaho Transfer Beyonce Bea to WSU.

Ethridge’s 2023 recruitment class includes four excellent players from Arlington, Washington, Missoula, Montana, Niger and Italy. The Cougs also welcomed University of Idaho transfer Beyonce Bea of Washougal.

The talented class joins All-Pac-12 sensations Leger-Walker, Murekatete and Astera Tuhina and key contributors Johanna Teder, Tara Wallack and Jessica Clarke for a season with perhaps the highest expectations a WSU WBB season has ever had.

“I can’t wait to see what they can do, what [Ethridge] can do with the program and how much further she can take it. But I mean, that’s gonna have to wait because we’ve still got a bunch of more basketball to play,” Motuga said after the Cougs beat then-No. 3 Utah in the Pac-12 quarterfinals.

Three days later, the Cougs were Pac-12 Champions of course. Cougar fans can do themselves a favor and be in Beasley Coliseum come October to see where this year’s Cougs can go.