March 3, 2023
Ethridge’s tenacity turns Washington State into a winner
Kamie Ethridge has turned the tide for the Cougars program that is experiencing unprecedented success.
Mary Camille “Kamie” Ethridge’s 87-year-old mother, Mitzi, was in the stands at Michelob Ultra Arena Thursday night, watching her daughter coach the program that she has not so much revived, but hoisted, yanked, pulled up from the bottom of the Pac-12 to become, if not yet a power, a consistent winner and regular NCAA participant. With Mitzi in attendance, Ethridge and the No. 7 seed Cougars knocked off the No. 2 seed and No. 3 ranked Utah in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament, the highest-ranked team WSU has ever defeated.
Bella Murekatete, the Cougars’ senior center, was on camera running up to the stands to hug Mitzi to celebrate one of the biggest wins in program history. The affection Murekatete clearly felt for Ethridge, being transferred to her mom.
They will face Colorado in the semifinals on Friday night, riding the momentum of five wins in six games. The only loss in that stretch was in double-overtime against USC. The Cougars have 21 wins for the first time in program history and, perhaps most importantly, they will play in the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season after previously not playing in the tournament since 1991.
Ethridge finds these milestones as a double-edged sword, as much a statement about the program’s difficult past as its bright future.
“There’s a little bit of comedy in that,” Ethridge said Wednesday. “It’s not a great statement for the history of our program, but that’s what it is and we signed up for this and we signed great players. We have progressed to the point where we win more than we lose and that we compete well pretty much in every game that we play. We’re to that point.”
The Cougars coach brought her championship pedigree — she played for the legendary Jody Conradt at Texas and won both a national championship and the Wade Trophy in 1986 — to one of the most difficult spots in the country to recruit. Pullman is not an easy city to sell to basketball players. The weather, the small town, distance from the nearest major airport (Spokane is a largely desolate two-hour drive in the winter). At least that’s always been the narrative.
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Ula Motuga, the fifth-year senior from Canterbury, Australia, who scored 13 second-half points in Thursday night’s win, has been on the roster since Ethridge’s arrival. She admitted that she didn’t know what to expect from her new home base.
“I got here and it was nothing but wheat fields,” Motuga said. “Small, you know, almost a county town. I’m super grateful for the chance she gave me to come out to Pullman and change the whole thing around … and make basketball relevant in a city where it always hasn’t been.”
Pullman has become a place for a number of international standouts — from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Kosova, Estonia and Finland — coming together to build something lasting with Ethridge’s tenacity and grit as the tone-setter.
Ethridge’s record in five seasons is 72-74, 40 of those wins coming in the last two seasons.
“I think if you would have told me that this was going to happen five years ago I would have said you’re lying. No chance,” Motuga said. “I think it’s just a credit to Coach E and obviously who she is and what she’s about. The team now are pretty much all players who she’s recruited and everyone has bought into everything that she’s about.”
Written by Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.