Emma Wolfram still can light up a gym.
Her smile, undimmed by the outrageous fortune of three major surgeries and the loss of half her college playing career, brightens every Gonzaga women’s basketball practice and every game.
It also shines for those who’ve never set foot inside the Kennel, the people served through Wolfram’s work with Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity and other organizations.
“She’s the most positive human being I’ve ever met,” GU coach Lisa Fortier said of her senior post. “She should be down, and yet she’s not.
“Her positive outlook is something amazing.”
Now the Zags are doing something amazing for Wolfram, whose injuries kept her off the court all season: a ceremonial start on Senior Day against BYU.
“Her teammates all wanted her to have that,” Fortier said. “She hasn’t had that last hurrah, that last ovation.”
Now she will. On Saturday afternoon, Zag Nation will give it up for Emma Wolfram, the senior who’s given so much.
The highest of highs …
One of the last recruits of former coach Kelly Graves in 2013, Wolfram was one of the top youth players in Canada that year and led the national U17 team to a bronze medal at the world championships in Europe.
At 6-foot-5 with an uncanny outside shot, Wolfram was the youngest member of a Canadian team in the Pan American Games in 2011, competing against former Zags Kayla Standish and Katelan Redmon.
After redshirting at GU in 2013-14, the British Columbia native was a major force the following year on Fortier’s first team.
Playing in 32 games that year and making the West Coast Conference all-freshman team, she seemingly got better every game despite a nagging shoulder injury.
Wolfram saved the best for last, in the NCAA Tournament. After averaging 20 minutes in the regular season, she logged 29 and scored 10 points in a first-round upset of No. 6 seed George Washington.
She was even better in the second round against host Oregon State, scoring a season-high 17 points to help the Zags to a 76-64 win that still stands as Fortier’s biggest at GU.
Wolfram smiles at the memory.
“It was a great experience,” said Wolfram, who in the spring of 2015 had every reason to expect more of them.
… and the lowest of lows
After the season, her left shoulder was so stretched after multiple dislocations that surgery could no longer be avoided.
Six months later and just one game into the 2015-16 season, Wolfram suffered a devastating injury during practice, including a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus.
Lost for the season after her second major setback in less than a year, Wolfram tried to cope with a new reality.
“There have been a lot of times where I wanted to pack it in,” Wolfram said. “You have days where you don’t know how you’re going to keep pushing through.”
“A person with a different mentality could have gone to a really dark place,” Fortier said.
Instead, Wolfram embraced the light, the possibilities beyond the basketball court.
“After all, academics are why we came here,” Wolfram said. “Basketball is something I love, but school is something that’s going to take me through the rest of my life.”
During those long hours of therapy, Wolfram saw the trainers in a new light.
“I got to know my body and how it functions at this level,” said Wolfram, who is applying to physical therapy schools in the United States and Canada.
Back on the court for her junior year, a healthy Wolfram played all 31 games, averaging four points and four rebounds to help the Zags get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Along the way she had 34 blocked shots and shot 38 percent from the field.
She also made the dean’s list as she graduated with a degree in human physiology, and was elected president of Gonzaga’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council.
The group not only gave Wolfram a chance to help GU student-athletes reach out to the community, it also sent her a message: She was a natural leader.
And in case physical therapy school doesn’t work out, she’s finishing up her master’s in organizational management.
Reaching for more
Poised for a big senior year, Wolfram’s world came crashing down again last June with another injury.
This time it was a partial ACL tear. Wolfram didn’t give up her senior season easily. She consulted several specialists, hoping to play without surgery.
“I just wanted to play one more year,” Wolfram said.
When that door closed in November, Wolfram underwent surgery and reinvented herself – again. This year she’s a senior captain, a voice of the coaches and a friend for the players.
“She’s very cerebral,” Fortier said. “She’s helped us with rebounding, helped with individual players and with leadership in picking up a certain player who needs a little picking up.”
In other words, Wolfram has the qualities of a coach, which got her thinking even more about the potential of that master’s in organizational leadership.
“I’m just trying to find a way to help lead, even though I can’t be on the court,” said Wolfram, who may pursue a coaching career if physical therapy school doesn’t work out.
“I want to be out there seeing them succeed,” she said during a recent women’s practice. “It gives me such joy.”
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