Sherri Murrell may need a pair of steel-toed shoes.

“I’m going to be kicking down doors of all the coaches in the Northwest,” said Washington State’s new women’s basketball coach.

Even before she was introduced at WSU in late March, she had been on the phone trying to improve WSU’s recruiting success in the region. Last season, only one Cougar player was from Washington.

Murrell’s first order of business after being hired was to contact each returning Cougar player and “embrace them.” She also wanted them to know she wasn’t coming to WSU to “clean house.” With four scholarships to fill and less than two weeks to sign late recruits, she was busy phoning state AAU and high school coaches, inquiring about players and paving the way for future recruiting efforts. If she can get student-athletes to set foot on the campus, she believes they will be impressed by what the University has to offer in academic and athletic resources.

What other people see as negatives—Pullman’s small-college-town atmosphere and isolation—Murrell sees as positives. Until she was 15, she lived in rural Redmond, Oregon. Then she moved to Portland and played basketball for St. Mary’s Academy, 1985 Oregon State 4A high school champions. Her collegiate basketball career was divided equally—two years at Louisiana Lafayette (formerly Southwestern Louisiana) and two years at Pepperdine. She completed a degree in public relations in 1991 at the latter school.

Murrell possesses all the qualities WSU was seeking in a new coach. She’s a proven winner, has strong connections in the Northwest, and has demonstrated the ability to build a basketball program at the Division I level, according to WSU athletic director Jim Sterk.

“She’s a perfect fit,” Sterk said. He held a similar position at Portland State University when Murrell was an assistant coach there from 1996 to 1998. During the past four years as head coach of the University of Pacific in Stockton, California, she compiled a 40-20 record and was 19-11 in 2002. Earlier she was 52-33 as head coach at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.

“I think we can be competitive and win here,” she said of the task ahead at WSU. “I look at it not as a 100-meter race, but a 400-yard relay. I’m ready to go.”

She describes her strengths as “people management and recruiting.” She has a reputation for being a players’ coach, demanding but fun to play for, and a good motivator. Her teams at Pacific played an up-tempo offense and an aggressive defense, but she says she’s flexible enough to employ “what most benefits the team.”

Murrell inherits a WSU program that went 17-68 during the three-year tenure of her predecessor, Jenny Przekwas, who was not rehired after the 2002 season. The Cougars finished the year 2-27 overall and 0-18 in the Pacific-10 Conference.

Murrell signed a five-year pact reportedly paying $130,000 annually to put WSU women’s basketball on a new course.

“If we—coaches and players—do our job,” she says, “I think the wins will come.”