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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gonzaga women’s basketball rookie coach Lisa Fortier ushers in new era

New Gonzaga women's basketball coach Lisa Fortier, and assistant coach and husband Craig Fortier, watch their team warm up. (Dan Pelle)

The Gonzaga women’s basketball team opened practice Tuesday with a new head coach for the first time in 14 years and without a clear picture of the guard rotation for at least three years.

Lisa Fortier, who was promoted earlier this year to replace Kelly Graves after he left for the same job at Oregon, said some of the position players have practiced together but Tuesday was the first time the entire squad practiced as a team.

“It will be great to see what they can do all together,” she said.

With the graduation of both Jazmine Redmon and leading scorer Haiden Palmer, Fortier now must find guards to replace two tremendous players and leaders.

“I think we will feel the loss the most on the defensive end,” Fortier said. “We have some returning players who can play defense. … But we just have to bring the other players up to speed.”

Among the international options at point guard is Georgia Stirton, a 5-foot-7 junior from Melbourne, Australia, who transferred in from North Idaho College. Joining her is a pair of 5-9 freshmen guards, Emma Stach of Buchholz, Germany, and Kacie Bosch, of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

Fortier also will rely on 5-10 senior guard Keani Albanez, who averaged 9.2 points on the team that finished 29-5 last year and won the team’s 10th consecutive West Coast Conference title before losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament to James Madison.

“We have some great freshmen coming in,” Albanez said. “There is a lot of talent on this team.”

In addition to Albanez, Fortier said she plans on playing 6-foot junior Shaniqua Nilles, who played for West Valley, at either the point or the shooting guard. Nilles played mostly forward last year.

“Shaniqua is the most versatile player on our roster. She can play any position, one through five,” Fortier said. “It makes it difficult for her to get off the floor.”

Except for the questions at guard, the rest of the roster looks formidable with returning 6-4 forward Sunny Greinacher. The senior from Essen, Germany, is the leading returning scorer with 11.8 points a game.

She joins 6-5 junior center Shelby Cheslek, of Pullman. She tied with Greinacher with an average of 5.4 rebounds a game.

The team also returns 6-2 forward Kiara Kudron, 6-2 guard Elle Tinkle, 6-1 junior guard/forward Chelsea Waters, 6-5 redshirt freshman center Emma Wolfram and 6-foot senior Lindsay Sherbert, who averaged 10.8 points a game last year. Sherbert is listed as a guard but often plays the small forward position.

“I think Shelby (Cheslek) has really worked on her offensive game,” Fortier said. “Emma Wolfram has improved drastically. She’s gotten a lot stronger.”

Fortier, who worked seven years directing the team’s defense and has nine total years with the program before her promotion, said fans can expect a similar offense, which is predicated on the defense creating turnovers leading to fast breaks.

“They are going to be good, but we have a new backcourt,” she said. “Whoever can do the job is going to get the assignment.”

The team also returns 5-4 senior guard Laura Sullivan, 5-7 sophomore walk-on guard Melissa Holland and 6-4 freshman forward Jill Barta.

Gonzaga opens the season at home on Nov. 16 at 2 p.m. against Dayton, which finished 23-8 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Florida.