GETTING TO THE INAUGURAL post-season Pac-10 women’s basketball tournament is not a problem. All conference teams are invited to the March 1-4 tourney in Eugene, Oregon. The challenge is to succeed.

Last year, the Cougars were 11-17 overall and ninth in the league. With eight letter-winners gone, just about every position is wide open. “Questions will be answered by how hard the players compete,” coach Jenny Przekwas says as she embarks on her third campaign in Pullman. “We have some good experience returning and a really high desire to win.”

Guard Jessica Collins, back for a fifth season after a medical hardship year, leads the senior contingent. Brittney Hawks and Whitney Martindale return, but Szudia Bragg is academically ineligible for the fall. All three transferred to WSU last year from the junior college ranks. Hawks topped the Cougars in scoring (8.9) and rebounding (5.2). The 6-foot-2 center also had 14 rebounds at UCLA, including 11 on the offensive end to set a WSU standard.

“I think Brittney will be much more prepared this year,” her coach says. Martindale, a guard/forward (3.5 points), had 13 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Stanford last season. Bragg averaged 3.7 points in 22 games.

Jessica Ottmar, a 6-foot junior guard/forward with 22 starts in 51 games, is WSU’s most experienced player. She had a career-high 17 points in an 8-of-9 shooting effort against Idaho last year while averaging five points.

“Ott has a tremendous work ethic,” says Przekwas. “I look to her for leadership.”

Sophomores Lindsey Egeland, Kim Dugan, and Candace Fields complete the returnees. Freshman recruits Jami Clevenger, Francine McCurtain, Jessica Perry, and Emma Joneby will have to step up quickly. “How fast they adapt will be the key to how soon they can contribute,” says their coach. Clevenger, a 6-2 forward, led Caldwell High to the Idaho state championship. She averaged 12 points and shot 53 percent (73-of-138) from the floor en route to earning Player of the Year honors. A pair of Arizonans shore up WSU losses at guard. McCurtain was state Player of the Year at Winslow High. Perry comes to WSU as the all-time leader in points, steals, and assists at Phoenix’s Shadow Mountain High.

“The point guard spot will be a key for us,” Przekwas explains. “Collins is returning. She brings experience. Perry is coming to us with great talent but a lot to learn. They should complement each other well.”

Emma Joneby, a 6-foot-2 forward from Sweden, will provide a significant presence on the WSU frontline.