What began with the makings of a sophomore jinx has turned into a confidence-boosting season for Gonzaga’s 6-foot-3 twin towers, forwards Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth.
“It feels good to have all that work pay off,” LeeAnne said as the Zags prepare for Saturday’s first-round NCAA Tournament game against Arkansas Little Rock in Corvallis, Oregon.
For LeeAnne, the work began last summer as she dealt with a variety of aches and pains from the season before.
“I didn’t come into this season expecting anything,” LeeAnne said. “But I was going to come in and work as hard as I could.”
It paid off, though not the way LeeAnne thought.
Hoping to build on the 11 minutes of playing time she averaged last year, she got much more – thanks partly to a broken finger in the shooting hand of her twin sister.
That left LeeAnne starting in the frontcourt alongside senior Zykera Rice while Jenn was on the mend for seven games.
By the time she returned, “late to the party,” Jenn noted, “a lot of people had already found their roles. But I tried to be a leader on and off the court – that definitely helped shape my season.”
Back in time for the big home game against Stanford – her second game of the year – it was Jenn who came up big: 3 for 3 from the field, six points and six rebounds.
The 79-73 win over the No. 8 Cardinal was the confidence-booster both players needed. Beaten badly on the boards in their NCAA game last March, they turned the tables in the Kennel.
“It meant a lot, know that we’ve done that and can do it again,” Jenn said.
Both found their groove as part of a three-way substitution with Rice, with Jill Townsend or freshman Melody Kempton coming in off the bench.
And sometimes the Wirths got to play at the same time – “which is cool,” Jenn said.
Both have flourished. A starter for all 32 games, LeeAnne is averaging 6.5 points and 4.4 rebounds while playing 23 minutes a game.
Jenn has bigger seasonal numbers – 8.4 points and 5.3 boards – but LeeAnne came up with the biggest single game: 13 points and 13 boards in the Senior Day win over LMU that clinched the West Coast Conference championship.
“This year has really helped me find my role better on the team,” LeeAnne said. “Freshman year, you’re coming in and you’re trying to fill spaces where you can. Sophomore year, it’s been building the kind of player you have the potential to be.”
There’s more potential to be tapped, perhaps this week after the loss of Townsend (lower leg injury) and her versatility.
“Jill contributed so much to this team, more than we even realized,” LeeAnne said. “We’re all just trying to pick up some of what she brought.”
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