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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

‘Weirdness’ at the forefront of two WSU guard’s friendship

Kyra Gardner, Jenna Villa bonded over similar personalities, now helping WBB win games
Kyra Gardner holding Jenna Villa’s hand after Villa celebrated a WSU bucket, Feb. 9, in Pullman, Wash.

During the offseason ahead of the 2023–24 WSU women’s basketball season, the team went on a European Tour that took them to the likes of Croatia and Greece. During the trip, sophomore guard Kyra Gardner suffered a meniscus injury while at the beach with the help of her closest friend on the team, freshman guard Jenna Villa.

Gardner said she had been likely unknowingly playing basketball with a torn meniscus for years before the final blow. Still, near the end of the European Tour, she rested on top of a giant inflatable on the water and Villa jumped on the other end, sending Gardner careening toward the water. 

“As soon as I hit the water, I felt it,” Gardner said. 

She had flipped her meniscus, an injury that she had to rehab ahead of the season opener and an injury that, while not caused by Villa, had in part happened because of her best friend. 

That’s not what the two remember most about the trip, though, especially regarding their friendship. 

Villa’s parents attended the trip with the team and when the family had the chance to eat together, so did Gardner. She became a de facto member of the family, partially because Gardner is a self-described introvert that Villa “forced” to join her. 

Gardner admitted that “forced” might’ve been a strong word choice with a laugh, but alas, she is thankful for Villa’s persistence in getting her away from her shell. 

“They’re just like another set of family for me,” Gardner said. 

Both come from smaller towns in Washington, Gardner from Raymond (population 3,100) and Villa from Arlington (population 20,000) and both came to WSU because it felt like home.

Villa said she felt attached to the culture that WSU women’s basketball had been building, especially the older players like Charlisse Leger-Walker. Gardner said the “homey” feel that Pullman had mainly attracted her to the program. 

Their similarities in background and desire to play for Wazzu set in stone, the two quickly felt a connection when Villa arrived on campus. Although they said the entire team is close, they created a connection much deeper. 

At the core of that connection is their personalities, more specifically, their weirdness. 

“We understand each other so well. We can just look at each other and understand at just one glance,” Gardner said. 

They understand each other so well, in fact, that they think it can sometimes even intimidate their teammates. 

WSU guard Jenna Villa and Kyra Gardner celebrate their victory during an NCAA women’s basketball game against UC Davis, Dec. 1, in Pullman, Wash.

“I think sometimes our teammates can be a little intimidated by it, like the weirdness factor. Everyone on our team is weird, but we’re also a different weird,” Villa said. 

Villa and Gardner’s friendship has continued to grow as time goes on. This season, they got assigned as travel roommates, a convenient coincidence that keeps the ball rolling, even on the road. 

As a freshman, Villa has transitioned over the course of the season from primarily a shooter only to a more dynamic offensive role, partly due to Leger-Walker’s injury and partly due to her own confidence and growth. 

A six-time double-digit scorer, she had a career-high 18 against Houston and has been a sharpshooter from deep, shooting 33.6% from behind the arc on the season. 

“My confidence on the court is what has changed my role,” Villa said. “I’ve always been a shooter. But, with more confidence, I’ve been creating more shots for myself.” 

Gardner has come off the bench all season in a role where she may see anywhere from just a couple of minutes to nearly 20 on any given night. Regardless of how long she is in there, she makes sure to give 100% effort and commands the same from those around her. 

“I’m trying to be that big energy and big spark off the bench. I can be a big part of the team with my role, but my role is also the same as everyone else’s at the core. Show up every day and work hard, play every day like it’s my last,” Gardner said. 

A 31.3% three-point shooter, Gardner has the green light from her head coach despite what can sometimes turn into a 2-of-7 shooting night. 

“I have a lot of trust in Kyra’s offense. I really do. She puts in the work,” head coach Kamie Ethridge said. “She’s a little bit hit or miss but she’s been really solid this semester, getting in some extra shooting. Gosh, she’s got a beautiful stroke.” 

Villa and Gardner’s off-the-court friendship and on-the-court production will be present on campus for several more years as the two young guards will lead the next era of Cougar basketball with the likes of Astera Tuhina and Eleonora Villa.

Kyra Gardner celebrates with the WSU bench after a made WSU basket, Nov. 6, in Pullman, Wash.
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About the Contributor
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.

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  • David VetterMar 4, 2024 at 11:34 am

    I watched Kyra grow up in the hallways, classrooms and gym of Raymond Jr/Sr High. An amazing young lady with a great work ethic and an even greater family.

  • tim mellin....Murrow Comm....72Mar 1, 2024 at 10:20 am

    They’d enjoy it even more if they could play before crowds in Bohler Gym….a much more intimate atmosphere w/ the fans in the seats.

  • Rev. WintersMar 1, 2024 at 8:31 am

    Finding a great teammate is cool, finding a friend and “partner in crime” is priceless! Keep it going gals!