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Gonzaga women ahead of schedule, but still searching for a leader

Gonzaga guard Jill Townsend is a main candidate to step forward as a team leader. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Jill Townsend is a main candidate to step forward as a team leader. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Those extra practice days last summer are paying off for the Gonzaga women’s basketball team.

By all accounts, everything is ahead of schedule thanks to the Zags’ European journey and the 10 practices that preceded it.

Team chemistry, for one thing. Execution, for another.

But leadership? Not yet.

The Zags will certainly need some following the graduation of Zykera Rice and Laura Stockton.

“Somebody needs to be a little bit of an alpha, to be honest with you, those two were definitely that,” said coach Lisa Fortier.

“We need a little more directive talk and leadership. That’s something that hasn’t emerged yet,” Fortier said.

Senior guards Jessie Loera and Katie Campbell “haven’t been in a leadership position all the time,” said Fortier. “They do the right things and work, but they’re still trying to find their voice. They have a lot of personality, but it’s kind of bottled up.”

That’s not true of junior guard Jill Townsend, who came off the bench last year with points, rebounds and enthusiasm.

“She’s more comfortable calling people out,” Fortier said.

Otherwise, the Zags are a step ahead as they try to match or better last year’s 29-5 season, which ranks among the best in school history.

“I think we’re jelling really well, and you can see how close we’re getting on and off the court,” true freshman point guard Kayleigh Truong said as the Zags opened the second week of fall practice Monday afternoon.

Junior forward Jenn Wirth saw something more tangible.

“Our first practices were definitely less sloppy than it normally is,” Jenn Wirth said before Monday’s session at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

The only thing missing was a crowd. That will change on Saturday, when the Zags host the annual FanFest at the Kennel.

The newcomers got a preview during last weekend’s Kraziness in the Kennel for the GU men; now it’s their turn.

“I’m very excited,” said Truong’s sister Kaylynne, who recalled the twins’ official visit last year, which included the upset win over Stanford.

“I just wanted to jump into the court and join them,” Kaylynne Truong said.

Meanwhile, the freshmen are working on their transition game – that is, acclimating to the speed of the college game.

“It’s definitely different,” Kaylynne said. “I thought that in high school we played fast … but one practice here is like four AAU games.”

“That’s taking a toll on my body, for sure,” said Kaylynne, who credited the GU trainers for easing the pain.

The Truongs also thanked their teammates, some of whom are making transitions of their own.

Wirth, a projected starter last year until she broke a finger in preseason, was a major factor off the bench last year.

“Coming off the bench I knew I had to bring energy for my team whenever I could,” said Wirth, who averaged 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds.

“Obviously this year I’m hoping not to come off the bench,” said Wirth. “But no matter how it goes, either way I hope to bring energy to the team.”

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