Even before her first game for Gonzaga, Jill Townsend was no stranger to the bright lights of Spokane.
Twice she led Okanogan High School to the State 2B title in front of thousands of fans at the Arena, but how would that translate to the college game?
Just fine, as it turned out.
Along with fellow true freshman forwards Jill and LeeAnne Wirth, the versatile Townsend is a big reason the reason Gonzaga is back in the NCAA Tournament for the 10th time in the last 12 years.
“It’s a lot different from Okanogan, but it’s been a really fun transition,” Townsend said.
The transition was abrupt. Going into the season, there was no question of redshirting the talented trio.
Returning players could only do so much to fill the void in the paint left by graduating seniors Kiara Kudron and Elle Tinkle. The Zags needed immediate help off the bench to spell Jill Barta and Zykera Rice.
LeeAnne Wirth found her groove in midseason, but for Jenn and Townsend, double-digit minutes came on day one.
It wasn’t always pretty. GU lost three of its first five, and the freshmen struggled at times.
For Townsend, it was the speed of the college game. For the 6-foot-3 twins, it was the physical play in the paint.
“You hear that, but you don’t really understand it until you actually play it,” Jenn Wirth said.
Her breakout moment came at just the right time, in a nonconference game against Saint Francis on Dec. 17.
With Barta seeing limited minutes with a sore ankle and the Zags coming off a loss to UNLV, Wirth had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds as GU cruised to a 97-74 win.
A week earlier, the twins went scoreless after playing a combined 39 minutes against a tall UNLV lineup.
All three freshmen got heavy minutes in conference play. Townsend is averaging 4.1 points and 2.4 boards, and has adjusted to life on the wing after playing primarily as a post in high school.
Usually the first forward off the bench, Jenn Wirth is averaging 4.6 points and 3.4 board in WCC action, while LeeAnne is getting 3.8 and 1.7, respectively.
The future looks bright, but both are fixed on the NCAAs.
The extended Wirth family was watching Monday’s selection show back in Chandler, Arizona, and their mother Diane plans to make the trip to the Bay Area.
“It’s going to be fun,” LeeAnne Wirth said. “I feel great about the decision to come here and I know Jenn does, too.”
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