Jenna Moser grew up in the small farming town of Colton and never imagined that she would buck the odds to become a Division I basketball player for a Pac-12 team.
Jenna Moser jokes she’s living a basketball career that’s on borrowed time.
Her days on the court might have ended four years ago. Back then, few college teams recruited her after a decorated stint at Colton High that included four Class 1B state championships and two 1B Player of the Year awards.
And it appeared as if Moser’s uncanny rise from an unrecruited practice player to a starting point guard for the Washington women’s basketball team came to an end last February with one of her best all-around games on Senior Night at Alaska Airlines Arena.
But here she is, ready to suit up for one last season.
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“I certainly didn’t plan on things going like this, but I’m so happy to be back,” said Moser, who graduated in the spring with an undergraduate degree in business administration and is pursuing a master’s degree in intercollegiate athletic leadership. “And quite frankly, I wouldn’t change anything.”
“Well, I would have liked to have won a few more games last year,” she said smiling while noting UW’s 7-23 overall record and 1-17 mark in the Pac-12 last season. “But everything happens for a reason.
“I love my team and I love my coaches. Everyone is committed to show the hard work we’ve put into practices and everything else. And sometimes the games don’t reflect that. … I’m not going to lie, losing is hard. It really is. No one likes it. I certainly don’t. That’s not why I came back.”
It’s not altogether clear what exactly motivated Moser to initially step on the court with the Huskies during the 2014-15 season.
She was a freshman enrolled in the honors program and saddled with an ambitious academic schedule.
But she still had an urge to play.
Her high school coach, Clark Vining, contacted former UW coach Mike Neighbors about adding her to the team as a practice player, which meant she didn’t suit up for games or travel with the Huskies.
Midway through the next season, Neighbors promoted Moser to a walk-on and she was a role player for two years on teams that made deep runs in the NCAA tournament.
“Those first few years I was trying to make everyone else better,” said Moser, who appeared in 14 games while playing 30 minutes and scoring four points during her first two seasons. “I wasn’t really working on my game because that wasn’t my role.”
When Neighbors departed and a slew of veterans left last season, Moser found new opportunities at UW and quickly impressed new coach Jody Wynn.
“When we first met Jenna, it was just like, hey, this kid is a walk-on on the team and then she was off to an internship with Nike for an entire summer and we never saw her,” Wynn said. “She returned to campus in September and just blazed through the conditioning tests on day one, and it was like, ‘Wow, who’s this kid?’
“And from then it was like immediate respect. Like I don’t know who you are very much and she didn’t know who we were, but that just shows her character, right? And she’s an unbelievable young woman. I mean she just has it all together.”
Following a preseason practice, Wynn huddled the team on the court and awarded Moser a scholarship, a surprise announcement that brought everyone to tears.
“It was one of the happiest days of my life,” Moser said.
Said Wynn: “She was crying, I was crying. Heck, everybody was crying. But you know what, she earned it. We hadn’t been together very long, but you could just tell there was something about her. She’s tough.”
Moser proved her worth. She was the only Husky to start all 30 games while averaging a team-high 30.9 minutes, 8.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.9 steals last season.
“She’s quiet, but she leads by example and she’s finding her voice I think even more so now as a college grad … as well as just her sheer work ethic off the court,” Wynn said. “So she’s just an incredible young woman, and you hope that you can always have people of her character … in your program.”
The Huskies, who ranked last in the Pac-12 last season in scoring (67.1 points) could use a little more scoring from Moser, whose career high is 21 points.
“I’ve been asked to step outside of my comfort zone a lot of times by Jody and a lot of times by my teammates just to be a better example in a lot of things,” Moser said. “I never really had to lead on the court.
“I could lead off the court, be kind of a peacemaker. And I still try and do that, but at the same time try to be the hardest working one out there to set that example for my teammates as well.”
Admittedly, Moser thought she played her last game at UW on Feb. 25 when she tallied five points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals during an 83-67 defeat against California in the home finale last season.
She was ready to say goodbye to a basketball career that began in the unlikeliest of places – a southeastern Washington farm that produces wheat, barley, garbanzo beans and peas.
“Like I said, I wouldn’t change anything about my path and how I got here,” said Moser, the third of four girls in her family. “I loved growing up on a farm. I know it’s an unusual story. Not many D-I players come out of Colton.
“I joke about it, but I probably know everybody in Colton. We’re all connected in some way. Either I went to school with them or somebody in their family; or my mom (who is a school teacher) taught them. It’s just a close-knit community.”
Located about 15 miles south of Pullman, Colton’s population is fewer than 500.
During her senior year, Moser, the class president and three-sport star who played softball and volleyball while carrying a 4.0 grade-point average, was one of 52 students, including 17 seniors.
Looking back gives her a greater appreciation of what she’s accomplished.
“I don’t take one day for granted,” Moser said. “I’m thankful for every day that I get to play because I know how things could have been different.
“I know I’m fortunate to be here, but I also know that if you have a goal and you work hard at it, then anything is possible.”