PULLMAN — At the end of a tough season, Washington State women’s basketball coach Kamie Ethridge was ready to turn the page.
However, her star player still wants to write a few more chapters.
Forward Borislava Hristova ended her junior season with a 19.9 scoring average and a big decision to make: return home and go pro, or spend a fifth year and help the Cougars get back to the NCAAs for the first time since their lone appearance in 1991.
“This team has never been to the NCAA tournament for a long time, and this is something I wanted to be part of,” said Hristova, who is one of 20 players on the watch list for the Cheryl Miller Award for the best small forward in the nation.
“I think we can build something special this year, so I wanted to be part of it and leave something behind me when I leave, because I’ve got one last chance at this.”
Hristova also has a chance to make some history for herself. A first-team All-Pac-12 selection last year, the 6-footer from Varna, Bulgaria, enters her final season with 1,699 points.
That ranks third on the WSU career scoring list and within range of leader Jeanne Eggart, who had 1,867 points from 1977-82.
Hristova will get help from another senior, point guard Chanelle Molina. The first five-star recruit in program history, Molina averaged almost 16 points and 5.1 assists last year and was an All-Pac-12 honorable-mention selection.
However, the Cougs relied heavily on their two stars, who combined for almost 60% of the team’s points last year.
Not surprisingly, WSU went 9-21 overall and 4-14 in the conference. They also lose starters Alexys Swedlund (11 points a game) and Maria Koustourkova (6.7 points and 4.5 rebounds a game) and are picked to finish 10th in the conference.
However, the inside game will be boosted by sophomore Ula Motuga, a solid low-post rebounder who emerged as a starter late last season. Another post player, Jovana Subasic, offers strong shooting along with a 6-4 frame.
Also back is sophomore wing Shir Levy, who started much of the season, and Molina’s younger sisters, Celina and Cherilyn.
“I’m glad year one is over,” Ethridge said. “The thing that was the most difficult for us was just learning your own team in the midst of a season.
“And now a year later I just feel like I know this group better,” Ethridge said. “We’re built a little bit better. We have a little bit more depth in our program now, and having been the way we want to play and our system for a year.”
The Cougs might be better this season, but their final record might not reflect it. The nonconference schedule includes defending NCAA tournament champ Baylor plus strong programs in Gonzaga, Brigham Young and Boise State.
In the conference, WSU will contend with a trio of preseason top-10 teams in Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State.