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Gonzaga women head overseas with team bonding in mind

Leanne Wirth, right, shoots 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)
Leanne Wirth, right, shoots 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)

For the Gonzaga women, this has been no average summer.

And it’s about to get even better.

The Zags had an extra spring in their steps Monday afternoon at the Volkar Center, and why not? In two weeks they’ll be in southern Europe, taking in the sights and sounds and tastes of Italy and Spain.

They’ll also play some basketball – three games, to be exact – and an extra 10 days of practice will be a nice jump-start for next year. But that isn’t the point.

“It’s not just for basketball, but for team bonding,” said guard Katie Campbell, who also sees the trip as a chance to step up into a leadership role following the graduation of Zykera Rice, Chandler Smith and Laura Stockton.

“But we’ve been talking about the gelato and the pizza – we’re going to eat the food in the places that they’re known for,” Campbell said.

It’s already been a busy offseason for the Zags, who are coming off a 29-5 season that included another West Coast Conference regular-season title and a spot in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

When it ended, coach Lisa Fortier unveiled a surprise: eye masks, the kind you wear on a transatlantic flight. A special touch was the message on the front of the masks: “ZzzZags.” Sweet dreams indeed.

“We were all excited, and we were all hearing rumors,” said guard Jill Townsend. “It was very exciting.”

So much has happened since then.

In May, Fortier served as a court coach at the USA Basketball Junior National Team Trials.

Fortier and her staff also got two verbal commits for 2020, from Canadian international player Yvonne Ejim of Calgary and four-star wing McKayla Williams from Los Angeles.

The Zags also welcomed four new players. True freshman forward Eliza Hollingsworth recently flew halfway around the world to Spokane; on Aug. 10 she’ll board another jet with her new mates.

“One step at a time,” Hollingsworth said. “I’m so excited.”

Also in the Volkar Center was Vanderbilt transfer Cierra Walker; and the Truong twins, Kayleigh and Kaylynne, a pair of 5-foot-8 guards from Houston.

The Zags already have another set of twins, junior forwards Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth. No word yet on when all four will step on the court at the same time during a game, but it could happen in Europe.

Meanwhile, Townsend has endured four months of rehab after her sophomore season ended cruelly with a major leg injury in the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas.

Townsend was back on the court Monday with her teammates. “I’m still not 100% but I’m hoping to get some minutes in Europe,” she said.

The fun begins on Aug. 10, with multi-day stays in Barcelona, Rome, Venice and Florence. The team will return on Aug. 22.

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