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Gonzaga’s Jill Townsend ready for return to court after recovering from broken leg

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 2, 2019, 6:03 p.m.

Gonzaga guard Jill Townsend poses during a practice on Monday, July 29, 2019, at Gonzaga's The Volkar Center for Athletic Achievement in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Jill Townsend poses during a practice on Monday, July 29, 2019, at Gonzaga's The Volkar Center for Athletic Achievement in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Sooner than expected, Jill Townsend is back on the basketball court – which is a surprise to absolutely no one.

On Monday – barely four months after a major leg injury – Townsend was working out with her Gonzaga teammates ahead of their upcoming trip to Europe.

Two weeks on the Mediterranean is motivation enough to entice players back to campus in the middle of summer, but Townsend has been on fast-forward since the moment she crumpled to the floor with a broken femur in March.

It happened late in a West Coast Conference Tournament semifinal game against Saint Mary’s in Las Vegas. The Zags had already lost senior point guard Laura Stockton, but Townsend got 19 points and six boards to help her teammates get to overtime.

Thirty-one seconds into the extra period, she collided with a Saint Mary’s player. By the time Zykera Rice won the game with a last-second layup, Townsend heard the cheers from the training room.

But this wasn’t a time for self-pity. Surgery followed a week later, and Townsend was still recuperating when the Zags flew to Corvallis, Oregon, for the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

That just wouldn’t do for Townsend, who talked mother Janell and brother Jim into a late-night drive from their home in Okanogan, Washington, all the way to the Willamette Valley.

The next morning, as the GU bus pulled into the parking lot at Gill Coliseum, Townsend was waiting, supported by crutches and a heartfelt desire to be there for her friends.

The GU coaches were in on the secret, but not the players, one of whom shrieked, “Oh, my God, is that Jill?”

Of course it was.

“Seeing the hard work that everyone put in, I just couldn’t miss this,” Townsend said at the time.

Townsend helped get them there. She didn’t start a single game, yet finished second in points (9.4 per game) and fourth in rebounds with 4.7.

She also was a spark, rising to the occasion in big games against Stanford (15 points on 5-for-6 shooting) and Saint Mary’s (with double-digit scoring in all three meetings).

Relegated to cheerleader status, she also excelled at that.

Before the Little Rock game, Townsend and Stockton joined their teammates in a players-only meeting. The locker room door was closed, but the cheers rocked the basement.

The Zags were ready to play. After one quarter they led 21-2 and cruised to an easy win. When it was over, Townsend and Stockton joined the midcourt celebration.

“We’re here partly because of her,” guard Katie Campbell said after the game. “How excited she gets, and how pumped-up she makes us feel, and seeing her on the bench, even if she’s just sitting there, it was so exciting for us.”

After the season ended, Townsend made the slow progression from crutches to a scooter and finally a boot – all while taking a full course load and undergoing painful rehab.

In June, Townsend even found time to entertain Hoopfest goers with her piano skills and cheer on assistant coach Stacy Clinesmith on the court.

“The rehab has been really good,” Townsend said. “It’s seems slow, but if I think about it, it wasn’t that long ago.”

It’s been 4 1/2 months, to be exact, for a recovery that often takes twice that long. Townsend isn’t quite 100%, either physically (with limited court time for now) and mentally (“not knowing what will happen if I move in a certain direction.”)

Townsend also is mature enough to see the big picture.

“I’ve never had an injury before this,” she said. “That’s been the toughest part – trusting that everything has gone well.

“But I knew that in the long run it’s better to hold myself back.”

The coaches agree.

“She’s been progressing as we’d expected,” coach Lisa Fortier said. “There haven’t been any setbacks.”

One of the biggest problems, Fortier said, is that “being injured is isolating, and it’s hard mentally, but we’re happy to have her back.”

Still, Townsend want more. The Zags will fly to Spain on Aug. 10.

“I’m hoping to get some minutes in Europe,” Townsend said.

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