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Gonzaga Women's Basketball
Sports >  Gonzaga women

GU’s Shelby Cheslek grows into leadership role

Shelby Cheslek is having another growth spurt.

The last one took her to 6-foot-5; the latest one is carrying Gonzaga’s senior post to greater stature, on and off the court.

Fourteen games into the season, Cheslek leads the Bulldogs in points, rebounds, blocked shots – and leadership.

“When she has to miss a practice because of a class project, it’s not the same without her,” coach Lisa Fortier said.

Then again, the Bulldogs wouldn’t be the same without Cheslek, who broke new ground four years ago when the coaches asked whether she wanted to redshirt as a freshman.

It was a big decision, with risks either way. Friends and family weighed in, but ultimately Cheslek saw the benefits of improving her physique as well as her academics.

“What’s the worst that could have happened?” Cheslek said, answering her own question: “Five years of a paid education” and the promise of a standout senior season that so far is living up to its promise.

Her decision has meant even more for the program, which has seen several more players opt to redshirt as freshmen or later.

“She set an unselfish pattern for those who elected to redshirt later,” Fortier said. “Now they don’t see it as a stigma.”

That Cheslek even came to Gonzaga is an unlikely story. A hip fracture in the sixth grade came within millimeters of her growth plate – any closer and doctors would have had to break the other leg just to keep her from tilting.

Cheslek grew up in Pullman – where her mother, Theresa, played for Washington State – and was on friendly terms with then-WSU coach Sherri Murrell, but wanted a change of scenery. She considered playing in the warm climate at Arizona State, but after looking far afield, Cheslek found her best opportunity just up the road in Spokane.

GU offered a top-notch business school, and the Bulldog basketball program was on the rise.

GU closed the the deal, Cheslek said, with a “friendly, straightforward” recruiting approach by former coach Kelly Graves and his staff, which included Fortier.

Cheslek buried herself in the books even as she was buried in the depth chart in the winter of 2011-12. “There were six post players in front of me,” recalled Cheslek.

The following season, she was just one of two redshirt freshmen on the team, but played in all 33 games while starting 25. Along the way she averaged 5.9 points and team-high 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

She matched those numbers in 2013-14, starting 24 games and seeing action in all 34.

Graves’ departure for Oregon that spring took her by surprise, but the disappoinment was lessened by Fortier’s promotion.

“It was an easy transition,” said Cheslek, who began to make one herself last year while starting 33 games. Thanks to new assistant coach Craig Fortier, she improved her shot and boosted her scoring average to 7.2 while still being a force on the boards.

Last season ended on a bittersweet moment, with the overtime loss to Tennessee in the Sweet 16. That also meant the departure of her best friends and roommates, high-scoring Sunny Greinacher and Keani Albanez.

This year, Cheslek is expected to pick up some of the scoring slack.

“My role has changed… last year we were focused on getting Sunny the ball. I was in there to clog the middle, rebound and block shots.”

So far, so good. She leads the team with 10.6 points and 9.1 rebounds, and last week became GU’s all-time blocked-shots leader with 177.

More important, the Bulldogs are 10-4 overall and 2-0 in the West Coast Conference going into Thursday night’s home game against San Francisco.

“This is my time to be a leader,” Cheslek said. “I try to lead in the weight room, I’m one of the most talkative players on the court, and I’m always cheering them on.”

And when the cheering stops? Cheslek hopes to play next year in the WNBA; if that doesn’t work out, she’ll graduate in the spring with an MBA.

“I think the future looks bright either way,” Cheslek said.

Bulldogs finally back home

After hosting nine of their first 10 games, the Bulldogs will play at home for the first time in 3 1/2 weeks when they host West Coast Conference rival San Francisco.

The rare New Year’s Eve matchup is only the seventh in GU history and the first since 2004. Tipoff in the McCarthey Athletic Center is at 5 p.m.

Gonzaga ranks 24th in the nation with a plus-10.1 rebounding margin that also leads the conference. Cheslek ranks second in the WCC and 20th nationally with 128 boards.

The Bulldogs also are winning with defense, holding opponents to 54.4 points and 35.3 percent shooting from the field – both tops in the WCC.

USF (9-4 overall, 0-2 WCC) is getting 21.2 points and nine rebounds a game from Taylor Proctor, who has five double-doubles this season.

Gonzaga hosts Santa Clara on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Broncos (11-2, 2-0) have won 11 straight, their longest winning streak in 14 years.

Santa Clara (11-2, 2-0 WCC) is outscoring teams by 11 points a game and outrebounding them by 4.4 The Broncos are forcing 24.8 turnovers a game.

Eagles open Big Sky season

Led by senior guard Hayley Hodgins, Eastern Washington is 6-6 going into its Big Sky Conference opener Thursday at 3 p.m. against Northern Colorado.

Hodgins is the Big Sky’s leading scorer with an average of 20.2 points a game, and has scored at least 20 points in each of EWU’s last four games. Her younger sister, sophomore Delaney Hodgins, scores 14.5 points per game.

Northern Colorado is 5-5. The Bears are shooting 34 percent from 3-point range; Senior Kyleigh Hiser averages 10.5 points.

Eastern hosts North Dakota at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Fighting Hawks (4-7) are averaging 39.7 rebounds (plus-8.5 per game). Senior Mia Loyd leads the team in scoring averaging 13.8 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting.

Vandals back on track

Idaho enters Big Sky play at 8-4 following a 75-47 win over Carroll College that broke a three-game losing streak.

The Vandals host North Dakota on Thursday and Northern Colorado on Saturday. Both games tip off at 2 p.m.

The Vandals are getting 13.2 points a game from Geraldine McCorkle and 11.2 from Christina Salvatore.

Four Vandals are averaging at least five rebounds.

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