The Gonzaga women’s basketball team learned a lot about itself last year but didn’t quit there.
After an injury-plagued 19-14 season that would be counted as a success almost anywhere else, coach Lisa Fortier said the Bulldogs carried their introspection into the summer.
“We looked at things from a different perspective … we put ourselves under the microscope,” Fortier said.
The conclusion: “I think it reiterated a coaching philosophy of taking care of people and trying to get better … but at the end of the day, we’re going to stick together and work our tails off.”
The Bulldogs figure to get a less-critical examination at Saturday’s Fan Fest at the McCarthey Athletic Center, where several thousand fans will be seeking autographs rather than clues on how GU plans to beat Saint Mary’s.
Still, Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage should offer some clues about this year’s squad, which Fortier says could be deeper and better on defense – and not merely because All-West Coast Conference guard Elle Tinkle is back from a meniscus injury that cost her most of last season.
The biggest challenge for the coaches may be sorting out roles for a talented backcourt bolstered by the return of Tinkle and returnees Emma Stach, Laura Stockton and Zhané Templeton – plus highly regarded transfers Chandler Smith and Makenlee Williams.
“It’s going to sort itself out, but that might mean more well-spread minutes and cycle them in different ways,” said Fortier, who opens her third year on Nov. 4 at home against NAIA team Corban.
“I think we’ve done a lot of things in the preseason that are building toward that,” Fortier said.
The addition of the 6-foot Smith – a Nebraska transfer who’s also a strong 3-point shooter – and the 5-11 Williams (from Utah State) also means more length on defense.
“I hope that that’s going to get us some different transition looks and that’s an identity I’m really comfortable with,” Fortier said.
On offense, a better outside threat “will open up things inside,” Fortier said.
The biggest beneficiary could be 6-3 forward Jill Barta, who started only seven games as a redshirt freshman yet averaged a team-high 14 points along with 5.8 rebounds.
“I hope she picks up where she left off,” Fortier said. “Her biggest challenge is to round out her game and being a team defender.”
Senior Kiara Kudron, a 6-2 forward, should play an even bigger role after averaging seven points and seven boards last year. Center Emma Wolfram hopes to bring her 6-5 frame and outside shooting back to the floor after missing last year with a knee injury.
“We have what feels like a new team even though we all know each other fairly well,” said Tinkle, a 6-2 senior captain. “Right now I want to help make sure that we’re on the same page.”
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