Updated Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Walking the beaches of Barcelona in the intoxicating Mediterranean Sea air, everything swept away for Washington State junior guard Ireti Amojo. Painful knee injuries, frustrating rehabilitations and disappointing seasons were far away.
"I took a longer summer break this year than I did in the past," Amojo said of the family trip to Spain as part of her brother's high-school graduation gift. "That was good for me to get away mentally."
Nearly six months earlier, in Washington State's Pac-12 regular-season opener, Amojo crumbled to Oregon's new Matthew Knight Arena court with a knee injury. Amojo also suffered a season-ending knee injury as a freshman, during a practice after the first game.
The second was particularly daunting. Amojo — a 5-foot-10 wing player from Germany — was in the midst of a possible breakout season. Ten days earlier, she scored a career-best 22 points against No. 14 Louisville. The Cougars nearly pulled an upset, falling 75-71.
Amojo was proving to be a three-point threat, shooting 50 percent before the injury. And the vocal player owned the respect of her teammates, voted most inspirational as a freshman.
But instead of helping WSU break its stereotype of being the conference doormat, she cheered on the sideline as the Cougs turned a dismal 5-13 Pac-12 regular-season finish into the program's first run to the conference tournament semifinals.
Healthy, it's now up to Amojo and sophomore guard Tia Presley, who missed the final 12 games last season due to a broken left foot, to sustain the newfound momentum. Both had emotional moments in exhibition games last week when shots fell and assists connected as they had before any injuries.
"It definitely felt really good, especially because I didn't think about shooting," Amojo said of making a three-pointer in WSU's exhibition opener. "It was one of those situations where I just shot the ball like it was habit and it felt good. It showed me that I can get back into just playing free."
Sixth-year Cougars coach June Daugherty will still slowly blend Amojo into the rotation. She'll play off the bench.
Junior returnee Brandi Thomas and freshman Lia Galderia will start on the perimeter, along with Presley, the point guard who started 15 games last season before her injury. Junior Sage Romberg returns as a starter inside, and senior center Carly Noyes will anchor the lineup.
There are six true freshmen on the team, but it's a talented group. The class features depth to guard against injury, and solid scorers. The Cougars averaged a conference-low 60.3 points last season.
"Ireti was cleared (to play) about 21 days ago," Daugherty said. "She's still trying to find her rhythm, to be honest about it, which is tough to do with the pace we want to play this year. (But) she is working to make up time and we really need her. We love her leadership and I believe she's the best jump-shooter in the Pac-12. We're going to need that."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @JaydaEvans
Ireti Amojo suffered a knee injury last season