Bring tissue to Washington’s regular-season home finale on Sunday.
As much as senior guard Mercedes Wetmore will try to make the focus about the key matchup against Oregon State, her teammates and coaching staff will be feeling nostalgic for her. Wetmore and walk-on Kassia Fortier, who retired due to a shoulder injury, will be honored for their playing careers at UW after the 2 p.m. game at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“I think I’m going to cry,” Washington freshman Kelsey Plum said. “People don’t understand. Mercedes is such the glue. She’s a stud. The little things that she does, it doesn’t show up in the box score but I’m telling you … Jaz (Davis) and I are really going to miss her.”
Wetmore is second in the Pac-12 in average minutes (37.1) and fourth in assists (4.3), forming the base behind UW’s improved offense while defending the opponent’s best player.
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The Tacoma-born point guard stepped on campus for the final season of former coach Tia Jackson’s tenure, which was also the last of four consecutive losing seasons – a first in UW women’s basketball. After back-to-back 20-win seasons under coach Kevin McGuff, Wetmore experienced another coaching change when he left for a similar position at Ohio State last spring.
Wetmore’s senior season began with tears in then-assistant coach Mike Neighbors’ office. His contract terminated due to McGuff’s departure, Neighbors’ office was packed in preparation to join McGuff in Ohio.
“We didn’t want to lose everything that we had worked so hard to start to build the foundation for,” Wetmore said of the conversation. “He gave me a big hug and tried to calm me down but it’s hard to accept something you put your whole heart into. I really believe in him and everything he stands for.”
Eleven days later Neighbors was announced as the new women’s basketball coach. The hiring strengthened a bond that connects Wetmore’s final season with Neighbors’ first.
Wetmore is Neighbors’ insurance on the court and liaison in the locker room. He credits her for why UW (16-10, 9-6 Pac-12) was able to recover from a 2-5 start to conference play by winning six of the team’s past seven games.
OSU (18-9, 10-5) is on a six-game win streak and sits third in the Pac-12 standings. A win against the Beavers would help the fifth-place Huskies move up to one of the top four slots, which means a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament at KeyArena next month.
UW believes a strong finish, including an upset against one of the Bay Area schools, would put it back in contention for the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2007. Washington defeated then-No. 3 Stanford earlier this month to strengthen its NCAA resume.
Wetmore, a communications major, isn’t done defining her career, however. She’ll play another season with the UW softball team. Wetmore joined the team on its tournament run last year.
But it all starts with that OSU game.
“I’m just focused on that win,” Wetmore said. “That will be a (signifier) on where our season is going to go. If we play hard and play together, it’s going to be a great senior night.”