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Senior Night will be full of emotion for Gonzaga women, coach Lisa Fortier

Gonzaga guards Elle Tinkle, center, and Makenlee Williams, right, will have much to celebrate during Senior Night. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guards Elle Tinkle, center, and Makenlee Williams, right, will have much to celebrate during Senior Night. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Sorry, Lisa Fortier, but Senior Night will never be easy.

The Gonzaga women’s basketball coach has thrown in the towel on that one, but she’ll bring tissues.

Fortier is sure to need them at the Kennel on Thursday night, when she and 6,000 others will honor seniors Elle Tinkle, Kiara Kudron and Makenlee Williams.

At the same time, the Zags will try to beat San Diego and win another West Coast Conference title.

“I’m almost teary just thinking about it,” Fortier said Tuesday after practice.

Each player has a story worth a few Kleenexes.

Williams transferred here last year from Utah State, where she was the No. 2 scorer before leaving the Aggies for personal seasons.

She came to Gonzaga because “she wanted to be a part of a championship,” Fortier said. Williams had hoped to play be playing by midseason of her junior year but was denied by the NCAA.

Now she’s making the most of her only season at the Kennel, playing 15 minutes a game and emerging as one of the team’s top 3-point shooters.

A quick study, Williams also made fast friends on the team.

“It’s funny, you’d have thought she’d been here for four years,” fellow senior Tinkle said. “She’s fit in so well.”

But if Williams had hoped to play longer, Kudron and Tinkle didn’t even expect to be here this season.

Kudron made more than a few sacrifices during her five years at GU. The biggest was taking a redshirt season in 2014-15 – smack in the middle of her career.

It was a mutual decision, a strategic move for the good of the program, but it meant that Kudron was on the bench during GU’s memorable run to the Sweet 16.

“She’s an unsung hero,” Fortier said. “She can do anything we ask her to do.”

Kudron even changed her game, after her high-scoring high school days in Michigan and again this year when she became GU’s top rebounder and second-leading scorer.

A fierce competitor, Kudron knows the Zags need a win tonight or on Saturday at BYU to clinch the WCC title.

“Emotions are pretty high right now,” Kudron said.

And speaking of emotions, Tinkle’s won’t be mixed this time.

Tinkle participated in last year’s Senior Night even as she petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility following a season-ending knee injury last year.

“But in my mind, I was thinking, ‘This isn’t it,” recalled Tinkle, who won a hardship waiver a few weeks later.

It was still a special moment, as Tinkle was joined by Shelby Cheslek and Shaniqua Nilles, some of the players she’d known since arriving as a freshman in 2012.

This time it’s for real. A Super Senior moment, if you will.

Tinkle will be joined by most of her family – except for dad Wayne, who’ll be on the road with Oregon State – and a childhood friend from Missoula.

“Those are the people who’ve been there for me,” said Tinkle, who also counts her teammates and coaches among them.

“I’m just very excited,” Tinkle said.

So is Fortier, who had welcomed Tinkle to GU summer camps almost a decade ago.

As an assistant, Fortier advocated for Tinkle when her nursing school commitments conflicted with practice.

“She’s such a good kid,” said Fortier, whose good deed was repaid in the spring of 2014, when Tinkle, Kudron and others urged GU to promote her to succeed Kelly Graves.

And soon they’ll be gone.

“They’re all really good basketball players, but they’re even more amazing as people,” Fortier said. “I would keep all of them forever if I could.”

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