“The experience of a lifetime,” the Gonzaga women are calling their 12-day trip to Europe that will also make some history: This is the first time any GU team is taking advantage of an NCAA rule that permits foreign trips every four years.
The Zags will fly to Barcelona on Saturday; they’ll return on Aug. 22.
“I’ve actually been asking for this for a long time,” said coach Lisa Fortier, who added that her old boss, Kelly Graves, had sent her as a representative every year to plead with the school for an overseas trip.
Fortier is grateful for the opportunity.
“It takes a lot of planning and a lot of money, and we have people who are interested in helping us go on this tour,” Fortier said.
When it comes to basketball, the biggest benefit isn’t the three games on the trip. Based on other schools’ experience, opponents can range from wretched to ridiculously good.
The Zags are hoping for a happy medium, but that’s out of their control. The big bonus is the practices – 10 of them – that lead up to the trip.
“It really is a big advantage to get that early experience,” said Fortier, who figures the Zags will be that much ahead when fall practice arrives.
“They we can work on other things, so this gives us a jump start,” Fortier said.
The timing couldn’t be better. Of the 13 players eligible to see action this year, six (Townsend, Campbell, Jessie Loera, Melody Kempton and Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth) have a wealth of college experience.
The other seven, who have almost none, are junior returnees Louise Forsyth (6.8 minutes per game last year) and Gillian Barfield (1.4 mpg), redshirt freshmen freshman Kylee Griffen, transfer Anamaria Virjoghe and true freshmen Eliza Hollingsworth and Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong.
“We’re kind of veteran,” Fortier said, “We’re not real young, but we have people in new roles, so it’s a real good basketball year for us to do something like this.”
Translation: Besides the sightseeing, Fortier and her staff will be looking for someone to make an early impression.
That could be the Truong sisters, who figure to get decent minutes as presumptive starters Campbell and Loera go into their senior year at point guard and shooting guard, respectively.
“There’s a lot of new faces,” Fortier said. “They’re talented and they’re fitting in well. Overall, I think we have a high ceiling with this group.”
Speaking of high ceilings, the Zags will spend much of the time sightseeing. The Sistine Chapel is on the itinerary, along with the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica.
“I can’t wait to see the Colosseum,” Townsend said. “I’m really excited for the history part of it; also Florence.”
That’s where GU has sponsored a study abroad program since 1963, but it’s typically been out of reach for student-athletes and their busy schedules.
“We have so many friends who are nonathletes who get to go, so we’re excited to take advantage of this – without having to do academics,” Campbell said.
Campbell will make the trip without her daughter Ava – “we’ll be doing a lot of FaceTime, I guess,” she said.
“But I can’t wait for the food – gelato and pizza, eating the food that Italy is known for,” Campbell said.
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