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Basketball, Banter, and a Special Bond Between Sisters

Mar 20, 2021

Coaching from the sidelines at Beasley Coliseum, Kamie Ethridge cannot help but listen.

"They have this sisterly banter back and forth."  Ethridge, the head coach of the Washington State women's basketball team, said with a smile. 

What Ethridge hears are the conversations between sisters Krystal and Charlisse Leger-Walker.

"It appears as though there's this loving sister duo," Ethridge said, "but they definitely expect a lot from each other and demand a lot from each other, which I think makes both of them better." 

The sisters' relationship is much more profound than their banter on the court.

"Their IQ how they see the game, and how they manage the game how they see one or two passes ahead of a play, I tell people all the time, they have a little bit of a secret language," said Ethridge.

"We don't need to speak to each other," said Charlisse. "On the court, I can tell you what Krystal is going to do before she does it. It's a great thing to have that type of connection." 

That connection has led to a resurgence of Cougar women's basketball during the 2020-21 season culminating with the program's first berth to the NCAA Tournament since 1991.

Journey to WSU

The bond between Charlisse and Krystal, and basketball, was created long before they played together on the Beasley Coliseum court.

As Charlisse explained, "We both started playing before we could walk." 

The sisters were born into the game. Their mother Leanne was a member of the New Zealand national team, the Tall Ferns, and a two-time Olympian (2000 and 2004).

It was the sisters' play in New Zealand, where they were both members of the national team, that drew the eye of Ethridge.

Ethridge recruited Krystal to Northern Colorado when she was the head coach. During the recruiting process, Ethridge became well-acquainted with her family, including Leanne.  

"We realized she produced some prodigies," Ethridge said.

When Ethridge left to take the head coach position at WSU, the relationship she formed with the Leger-Walker family eventually drew both Charlisse and Krystal to Pullman.

Krystal was attracted by the opportunity to play for Ethridge once again.

"I started to look at WSU and why I came to play here was because of Coach Ethridge," Krystal said. "She is a great person, a hard worker, and holds us to a high standard. I wanted to get back playing for her."

During her visit to WSU Krystal was struck by the family atmosphere surrounding the campus.

"What I took away from that visit was the attitudes of the people here," Krystal said. "You could tell how everyone is very happy at where they are. There is a lot of joy on the campus."

As the youngest player to ever lace up for the New Zealand women's national basketball team, having joined the Tall Ferns at 16 years old, Charlisse was heavily recruited. Her first recruiting visit was at Washington State, in which she described the experience as "awesome."

"I had established a relationship with coaches because they were with Krystal at Northern Colorado," said Charlisse. "I visited WSU when Krystal was still playing at Northern Colorado, and she had not spoken about transferring yet."

The decision of Krystal transferring to WSU enticed Charlisse, who had narrowed her choices to three schools, to Pullman.

"It definitely was a huge factor when Krystal decided to transfer, "Charlisse said. "I took a while to decide actually but once I knew she was coming it pulled me toward WSU. It was a big factor."

Transitioning to and succeeding in the Pac-12

Krystal sat out a year due to the NCAA Division I transfer rules, and the year off has paid huge dividends.

"It was really helpful for me and prepared me for this year," Krystal said. "I had an advantage coming into the Pac-12 and knowing what to expect."

Krystal also had the advantage of living with WSU all-time leading scorer Borislava "Bobbi Buckets" Hristova and draw drew on her knowledge.

"Coach put me in a great situation I lived with Bobbi and would go home and watch games and she would give me pointers," Krystal explained. "It was just great the year that I sat out."

And Krystal was able to provide her younger sister that insight when she arrived at Pullman.

"Krystal being here prepared me for what the competition was like and the intensity at how we train, college life, all of it," said Charlisse. "That was helpful for me."

While their banter on the court can be entertaining, the sisters have had a lot to say to the Pac-12 this season, as the duo has helped the Cougars reach heights not seen in program history.

The achievements include the first AP national ranking in program history, as well as the first win against a top 5, ranked opponent when the Cougars defeated No. 5/4 UCLA, Feb. 5. The sisters have set the pace in the Pac-12 statistical categories throughout the season, with both earning All-Pac-12 honors and Charlisse recognized as the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, only the second Cougar in program history to earn that honor.

Have each other's backs

On the court, the support Krystal and Charlisse demonstrate for each other speaks louder than any words can.

"We have each other's back and just want what's best for each other," said Charlisse, who is majoring in environmental science and business.

"The biggest benefit for me is the support I get from Charlisse on and off the court," said Krystal. "She's given me feedback after a game, reminders before a game, and what I need to lock in on and focus on.

"The support she offers is on a different level and comes from a genuine place of love and support," added Krystal, a business management and finance major. 

For Ethridge, the pair has been a joy to observe, regardless of if it is listening to their conversations or seeing them in action. 

"It's phenomenal for everybody to watch them compete and show up on a day-to-day basis and be the best leaders and competitors in the gym. They have proven to be that."