Kmetovska says goodbye to Pullman

Forward Ivana Kmetovska is the lone senior on the WSU women’s basketball team that has faced adversity all season.

The six-foot-three-inch senior has endured this adversity in all of her four years in Pullman. Between playing on postseason teams with players, such as WNBA guard Lia Galdeira and fellow professional Tia Presley, during her first two seasons and being an unspoken leader on this year’s injury-riddled team, Kmetovska has faced just about every possible set of circumstances a collegiate basketball player can experience.

Through it all, Kmetovska vowed to stay focused and take it one day at a time to see the bigger picture.

“You always need to find a way to push through and become better,” she said. “Once you give up, it becomes a habit.”

Kmetovska grew up in Macedonia, a small country bordering Greece and Serbia. The Cougars team also has a player from each of those two countries on its roster, as junior guard Pinelopi Pavlopoulou is an Athens native, and freshman forward Jovana Subasic hails from Sabac, Serbia.

Kmetovska mentioned her dad as being a huge role model to her growing up, teaching her the value of working hard no matter the circumstances.

She grew up wanting to play any sport she could. She played handball and volleyball as well as other sports while growing up in Macedonia.

“I was always that competitive little child going outside to play with friends, no matter what sport,” Kmetovska said.

She eventually settled on basketball when she was about 12-years-old, playing in U13 and U14 tournaments in Europe. She was named the team’s best scorer after scoring 40 points in the U14 championship. In the summer of 2012, Kmetovska represented Macedonia at the U18 European Championships, averaging nearly 12 points and seven rebounds per game.

For being so invested in the game, she never found herself thinking about what the future might hold, saying that she tries to “stay in the moment and just go with it.” Kmetovska received offers from colleges in the South in addition to WSU before settling on Pullman.

Upon arriving in Pullman, Kmetovska was in for some lifestyle changes. Moving from a small country to the U.S., along with navigating the language barrier, busy schedules and student-athlete obligations, it was not an easy transition.

“The dynamic of the life here is so busy,” Kmetovska said. “Your day is written down on a piece of paper.”

Kmetovska said she took some English classes in high school, but it really took her “a good three months” to learn the language. In addition, she was the only European on the team’s roster her freshman year.

As her freshman season began, Kmetovska said she struggled adjusting to the physical style of basketball that the Pac-12 offers. Injuries, specifically concussions, limited Kmetovska in her sophomore and junior seasons, and ignited her fuel to have an impactful senior season.

This season, Kmetovska was the lone senior on the Cougars’ squad, putting even more emphasis on her leadership role.

“I was not scared, I wanted to step up this year and I think I did that,” she said. “I felt more responsible than ever this year.”

Sophomore guard Alexys Swedlund described Kmetovska as trustworthy and loyal, and a source of energy on and off the court.

“We need to play these last games hard for her and send her off for a great career here at WSU,” Swedlund said.

One of Kmetovska’s bigger responsibilities on the team may not be present when they play. With five other European players on the team, four of them being underclassmen, she is a guiding hand to help them transition to life in Pullman.

“I can see how European players struggle in different ways than American kids,” Kmetovska said. “When you talk to Europeans, you kind of have a similar sense of humor and you understand each other better.”

Pavlopoulou said when she first arrived in Pullman two years ago, Kmetovska was a friend and mentor for her.

“When I was overwhelmed freshman year, she would take me to her house and cook for me, it almost became my second-home,” Pavlopoulou said.

Heading into the season, Kmetovska thought it was going to be “the best year in WSU history.” Despite the season-ending injuries to the team’s three leading scorers, Kmetovska sees the bigger picture and understands the importance of working hard and finishing strong.

“The coaches are teaching us about life through basketball,” she said. “Whether you lose or win, you’ve got to know how to handle it.”

After Cougar basketball, Kmetovska wants to continue playing professionally in either Europe or Australia. She also plans to complete her master’s degree, double-majoring in sociology and psychology.

Although Kmetovska is on her way out of Pullman, the memories and friendships she’s made are embedded in her forever.

“You spend three to four hours a day with these people for four years,” she said. “It’s not just something that can be erased.”