The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Charlisse Leger-Walker’s legacy: ‘She makes other people better’

WSU legend, pride of New Zealand, Leger-Walker’s legacy transcends Wazzu
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BRANDON WILLMAN
Charlisse Leger-Walker is all smiles after drawing a foul on her drive to the basket, Nov. 9, in Pullman, Wash.

When Charlisse Leger-Walker was 3 years old, she and her older sister Krystal Leger-Walker did something they should not have.

Their mom, Leanne Walker, does not remember what they did, but she does remember Charlisse’s response to it.

On the drive to take Charlisse and Krystal to daycare, Leanne brought up whatever it was they did.

“Here’s Charlisse sitting in the back and she goes, ‘Mom, get over it.’ At three years old,” Leanne said. “And I thought, ‘Hey, you’re right. That happened yesterday, can’t go back, move forward, you know, move into the next phase.’”

Leanne said Charlisse has a knack for not dwelling on things, good or bad.

That is why Charlisse has found success on the basketball court, has won a slew of awards at every level she has played at and has not let it get to her head. She is focused on getting better and she loves basketball.

Whether on the court or off of it, Charlisse is a difference-maker.

“Charlisse’s biggest strength is she has that ability to make people feel part of a collective. She helps inspire people to be the best version of themselves they can be, she just makes other people better,” Leanne said.

If she has already played her final game as a Coug, she will leave Pullman as the face of the most dynamic era of WSU women’s basketball.

“Charlisse walked into this program as a freshman and impacted it and changed it forever,” WSU head coach Kamie Ethridge said.

Before Charlisse’s freshman year (2020–21) the Cougs had only qualified for one NCAA Tournament in program history (1991). WSU has qualified for the tournament in each of Charlisse’s three seasons with the program and was on its way to a fourth.

BRANDON WILLMAN
Charlisse Leger-Walker shows off her bling, Nov. 9, in Pullman, Wash.

Ethridge’s approach to building her program was to find the right people.

“There’s kids that fit with us, our standard, how we do things, kind of people we are, our values, and that’s the biggest issue is get the right people that fit with who you are, where you are and the kind of program that you want,” Ethridge said after the Cougs beat Colorado in the Pac-12 semifinals, March 3 in Las Vegas.

Charlisse was the right person for WSU.

Charlisse committed to WSU because Ethridge was her sister’s coach at Northern Colorado University. Krystal transferred to WSU when Charlisse was a freshman, meaning that the two sisters would have the rare experience of being college teammates.

The pair led WSU to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 30 years. When Krystal left after two years, the role of team leader became Charlisse’s, a role she proved more than capable of filling.

HAILEE SPEIR
WSU guard Krystal Leger-Walker (4) dribbles around USC center Desiree Caldwell (24) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Beasley Coliseum, Feb. 13.

In four seasons, Charlisse put her name everywhere in the program record books.

The “kid from Waikato, New Zealand”, is third in scoring with 1,743 career points, second in made threes (199), third in career minutes played (3,794), fourth in career scoring average (16.6), fourth in field goals made (607), fourth in assists (389), fifth in made free throws (330), and ninth in career starts (105).

She is a three-time All-American, three-time All-Pac-12 selection, a three-time Ann Meyers-Drysdale Award finalist (reserved for the best shooting guard in NCAA women’s basketball) and the 2020–21 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year to name a few honors.

Charlisse scored 76 points in four games in Las Vegas to win the Pac-12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player Award and helped the Cougs win the school’s first women’s conference championship.

Charlisse’s accomplishments and accolades are long and lustrous, but her impact transcends WSU. In fact, it profoundly impacts her country.

BRANDON WILLMAN
Charlisse Leger-Walker inbounding the ball in the Cougs 77-72 win over Gonzaga, Nov. 9, in Pullman, Wash.

She could have transferred to any college or taken a slew of pro opportunities after three excellent years of college basketball, but she chose to return to Pullman for her senior year.

“My goal was always to finish four years here and really try and help turn this program around,” Charlisse said.

The chance to finish her degree, for free, was also at the top of her mind, she said.

College basketball in America is not as popular of an option in New Zealand. Charlisse said the chance to inspire younger generations was a big part of her desire to play college basketball in the first place.

“[I wanted to] be proud of accomplishing something that not a lot of people back home get to do, kind of paving the way for younger people back home showing them that this is possible,” Charlisse said. “And you know, we have a lot of girls back home playing basketball right now who never even knew that, you know, going into college was an option.”

Charlisse said playing in the Pac-12 was a huge opportunity for her. The chance to showcase her game against some of the finest college basketball programs in the world was an opportunity she embraced.

EMMA DECASA
Charlisse Leger-Walker shoots a layup during WSU women’s basketball’s 60-55 loss to UW Dec. 10 in Pullman, Wash.

Showcasing her ability was exactly what Charlisse was doing in a rematch of the Pac-12 Championship, Jan. 28.

The reigning Champion WSU held a 16-point lead over UCLA, the then-No. 2 team in the nation.

The best part up to that point?

Charlisse had 17 points in 19 minutes on the floor.

Head coach Kamie Ethridge said Charlisse was playing her finest basketball of the year.

Then, the unthinkable happened. On her way up to the rim on a layup attempt, Charlisse hurt her ACL. With 7:30 remaining in the third quarter, WSU’s best player left the game and did not return.

The Cougs immediately felt her absence. UCLA chipped away at the Cougars’ 16-point lead, scoring 29 points in the fourth quarter, but WSU held on to beat the Bruins 85-82. The biggest upset in program history.

Since the “saddest, happy day” in program history as Ethridge put it, WSU is 1-5, losing five straight games, three of them ranked losses at home. WSU has not been hopeless without Charlisse, holding late leads versus ranked teams Colorado, Utah and Stanford, but the Cougs have not been the same.

Charlisse remains with the team, attending every practice and game, home and away. She provides keen advice to her teammates and even her coaches, stepping into Ethridge’s office to share her observations. Ethridge said she has shared Charlisse’s ideas with the team.

“Her mind is as good as I’ve ever been around. She sees the game, she knows our system. She knows what to look for,” Ethridge said. “She has a great feel for individual players and what they need to hear and where she needs to step in and try to help them.”

With the deepest lineup of Charlisse’s tenure, the senior guard did not have to score as many points as she had in previous years, instead focusing on setting up opportunities for her teammates.

“I call her ‘Charlisse Legend-Walking’ because that’s what makes it better because she’s able to like affect other parts of the game. In terms of like passing, rebounding, telling people where to go and helping them defend,” senior center Bella Murekatete said. “She’s coaching us on the court. It means a lot, she don’t need to score for [her to be] effective. That’s how good she is.”

Charlisse recorded two triple-doubles this season, the first of her collegiate career.

“She’s always just been like another coach for us. And she’s just on the sidelines now,” junior guard Tara Wallack said.

Entering 2024, Charlisse sought to help the Tall Ferns, New Zealand’s women’s basketball national team, qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 2008.

The Tall Ferns are quite the family affair for Charlisse. Leanne, her mom, played in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics as a Tall Fern and serves as an assistant coach.

Her sister Krystal is also on the team.

The Tall Ferns qualifying tournament in China was two weeks away when Charlisse hurt her ACL, making the news arguably even more devastating for an entire nation than it was for Cougar nation.

Without arguably their best player, the Tall Ferns lost each of their three qualifying games and did not qualify for the Olympics.

Charlisse’s ACL injury disrupted her season and life. The chance to lead her team to a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament, a repeat Conference Championship and the chance to lead her country to the Olympics seemed like it was going to define her year and career trajectory.

Charlisse faces a slew of decisions.

She has one more year of NCAA eligibility which she could use to return to Pullman for one more go with the Cougars. She has the mental toughness and skill to begin her pro career after she recovers from injury and will certainly be at the top of the Tall Ferns roster as they set their sights on the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

“She’s just always been destined to do great things because she just always has, and it’s kind of who she’s always been. Just a great person who, you know, deserves great things to happen to her,” Krystal said.

Charlisse’s story is far from over. When the next feature of Charlisse is written, it will probably focus on her ability to “get over it” and achieve great things.

Just like she has been doing since she was three.

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About the Contributors
SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor
Sam is a senior multimedia journalism major from Lacey, Washington and the sports editor for spring 2024. He was the sports editor for the 2022-23 school year and managing editor for the summer and fall 2023. He plays the trumpet in the Cougar Marching Band, loves sports and has worked at the Evergreen since fall 2021.
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.
HAILEE SPEIR, Evergreen photo editor
Hailee Speir is a photographer for the Daily Evergreen. Hailee is a junior English education major from Spokane, Washington. Hailee started working for the Evergreen in fall 2021 as a photographer.