It is unusual for a player from the long-struggling Washington State women’s basketball program to be a nominee for the Sports Star of the Year Awards presented by the Seattle Sports Commission.

But WSU freshman guard Charlisse Leger-Walker from New Zealand is far from your typical player. And with her and sister Krystal leading the way, the Cougars are no longer struggling.

Charlisse Leger-Walker, named Pac-12 freshman of the week five times, joins former Storm forward Alysha Clark, Washington softball star Morganne Flores, Seattle U basketball player McKenzi Williams and Gonzaga basketball player Jenn Wirth as the nominees in the women’s sports star category.

Sports star of the year

Seattle Sports Commission’s 86th Sports Star of the Year Awards

When: Feb. 27, 7 p.m. PT
Watch: Virtual show broadcast on KING-5
How to vote: Online at sportsstaroftheyear.org/vote (voting ends Saturday, Feb. 6 at 11:59 p.m.)
More info: www.sportsstaroftheyear.org.

The public can vote for one the nominees through Feb. 6 at sportsstaroftheyear.org/vote. The other categories are the men’s sports star and story of the year. The winners will be announced on the 86th Annual Sports Star of the Year Awards show on Feb. 26, which will be broadcast on KING-TV at 7 p.m.

Leger-Walker, 5 feet 8, is averaging 17.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists for the Cougars. She leads the Pac-12 in total points (251) and steals (2.7 per game), and is third in the conference in points per game. She’s also had her share of heroics on the court, notching game-winning shots in an overtime win over No. 7 Arizona and in a double-overtime win over Oregon State.

Sister Krystal, the team’s point guard, is second on the team in scoring (11.7) and first in assists (4.1). No wonder things are looking up for the Cougars (8-6), who received their first top 25 ranking earlier this season, and seem well positioned for the program’s first NCAA tournament berth in 30 years (1991) and just the second in program history. The Cougars next host No. 5 UCLA on Friday at noon.

Charlisse didn’t know anything about the Sports Awards until Krystal showed her on Twitter that she was one of the nominees.

“It was awesome,” Charlisse said. “I didn’t even know that things like that existed where people could be recognized for things. It is really cool to be a part of that, just being recognized and seen.”

Leger-Walker’s talents were certainly recognized in New Zealand. She became a member of the national team at age 16, the youngest in history to make that squad, known as the Tall Ferns.

In high school, where she led her team to four straight national titles, she graduated at the top of her class academically.

“She is a special player and a special human being,” WSU coach Kamie Ethridge said of her star freshman. “She’s a 4.0 student. I think she was taking 18 (credit hours) last semester. Just a well-rounded person. She takes things very seriously, but she isn’t too serious.”

She comes by her basketball talent naturally. Her mother Leanne was a longtime member of the national team, playing in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, and was Charlisse’s coach through high school.

“She was one of my top influences, for sure,” Charlisse said of her mother. “She has been my coach my entire life, taught me everything I know and been by my side every step of the way. Seeing her accomplishments really motivated me to want to play and want to be as good as she was.”

Krystal is four years older than Charlisse, so they didn’t play together a lot through the years, but they competed in the backyard at home in Waikato, which Charlisse said is similar to Pullman.

Krystal played for Ethridge for two seasons at Northern Colorado. When Ethridge took the job at WSU in the spring of 2018, Krystal stayed at Northern Colorado as a junior.

WSU had been recruiting Charlisse even before Krystal made the decision to transfer to Washington State for her senior season.

“When Krystal made that move, it was a big factor in why I wanted to go to Washington State,” said Charlisse, who reportedly turned down offers to turn pro.

She was confident that she could compete at the Pac-12 level, but was not sure how successful she would be. To have so much success so quickly, and to do with her sister, has been special, she said.

“Being able to play with her has been really cool for me, just coming in as a freshman it has made my transition so much easier,” Charlisse said.

Because this year does not count against a player’s eligibility, Krystal could come back to play next season. Either way, the future looks brighter than ever for WSU women’s basketball.

“It’s awesome to be part of history,” Charlisse said of being part of the program’s first top-25 ranking. “It’s pretty cool to be a part of it during my first year and it makes me excited about the future of our program, just seeing how much growth it has already had. It’s really cool to be a part of this team.”

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of Charlisse Leger-Walker’s sister Krystal, who was mistakenly called Nicole.