It doesn’t seem so long ago that Emma Stach began looking overseas to play college basketball.
She remembers meeting then-Gonzaga women’s basketball assistant Lisa Fortier, who had visited Stach at her home in Buchholz, Germany.
Stach had drawn attention from the Gonzaga program for her impressive track record on the court. At 13 years old, she was the youngest player to have played in the Second Women’s Bundesliga League. When she was 14, Stach became the youngest member of the under-16 German national team and in the 2011 European Championship.
Fortier was impressed with the little German firecracker, and she got Stach to commit to the Zags. But at that time, Fortier didn’t have a clue that she would soon be taking over as head coach in place of Kelly Graves, who left for the head coaching job at Oregon after the 2013-14 season.
Gonzaga lost a handful of recruits who had originally committed to Graves and his staff, but Stach took a leap of faith and fulfilled her commitment with Fortier.
“I stuck with it,” Stach said. “I said, ‘I’m going to do it with you.’ ”
Stach’s first season in 2014-15 was also Fortier’s first season as head coach. She’s the only player so far to enter and exit the program in four seasons with Fortier leading the team.
“It’s something special,” Stach said.
It was certainly special for Fortier, who was fighting all day on Saturday to hold back her tears before her final home game with her seniors.
“It comes at you quick and all of the sudden they go, so it’s really hard for me because I care so much about them,” Fortier said.
The Zags honored Stach and fifth-year senior Emma Wolfram in a Senior Day ceremony just before tipoff. Wolfram, who redshirted her freshman year under Graves, was sidelined for the majority of the season with a knee injury.
On Saturday, before the Zags toppled BYU 62-37 in their West Coast Conference regular-season finale, Wolfram walked onto the court wearing a knee brace and dressed in full uniform, something she hadn’t had the opportunity to do in her final year of eligibility. She was starting for the Zags for just the second time in her career, and the first time inside the Kennel.
“It means a ton to me and it means a ton to her and her family to hear her name announced,” said Fortier, who admitted to tearing up again when Wolfram’s name was called in the starting five.
Wolfram went to the center of the court for the tipoff, but she didn’t attempt to jump up for the ball on her bad knee. Immediately after tipoff, junior forward Zykera Rice checked in and Wolfram retired to the sidelines for the rest of the day.
“This place is something special,” Wolfram said. “Realizing now that this is the last time I’ll be playing in front of this crowd is kind of crazy.”
Stach stayed on the court and helped the Zags finish with a 17-1 record in conference play, the first time a WCC team has won that many games. She finished the day with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting and had a pair of steals.
Stach led the guards against a heavy zone defense and helped get Gonzaga’s offense going from distance. Midway through the second quarter, she stepped back and drained a 3-pointer, giving the Zags a comfortable 21-8 lead.
She hit two more 3s in the second half, giving her 130 3-pointers in her career. That number puts her five behind Tiffanie Shives for seventh on Gonzaga’s all-time list.
After the game, athletic director Mike Roth met the team at the center of the court with the WCC regular-season championship trophy and handed it off to Stach. She hoisted the trophy for the fans to see before passing it along to her teammates.
Stach and Wolfram each took a few minutes with the microphone to thank the fans, their teammates and their families.
At the end of Stach’s speech, the guard turned to the corner of the arena where she locked eyes with her mother. Stach’s mother had flown into Spokane all the way from Germany this week to watch her daughter play in her final home game.
“I have to say something in German,” Stach said. Fighting back tears, she told her mother, in German, “Thanks so much. I wouldn’t be here without you. I love you.”
In all the emotion of cutting down the net and sending off the seniors, Stach said she hadn’t forgotten that the Zags still have more games to play in the postseason. They have at least one more game together in the WCC Tournament that begins next week in Las Vegas.
But playing just one more time inside a place Stach referred to as her second home was enough to keep the tears flowing for most of the afternoon.
“These four years flew by,” Stach said. “I’m going to miss this place so much.”
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