Two minutes into Saturday’s FanFest, the Gonzaga women buried the past and said hello to a bright future – all during the same play.
As true freshman guard Kayleigh Truong drove the lane for the Red team, junior Jill Townsend was waiting deep in the paint – the same spot on the court where her sophomore season ended so painfully last year.
Neither player flinched. Truong kept driving and Townsend stood her ground until she was flattened.
A nanosecond later, Townsend was back on her feet and feisty as ever – emphatically answering the biggest offseason question in Zagland.
“I just wish I’d gotten the charge,” Townsend said with a big grin, after a block was called on the play.
“It’s just good to be back,” added Townsend, who said she was pain-free after seeing 14 1/2 minutes of action out of a possible 16.
Townsend was feeling better than ever thanks to the good vibes in the Kennel. During a pause in action, a fan asked if she was feeling OK.
“I think we have the most caring, concerned fans in the country,” said Townsend, who suffered a season-ending leg injury during the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals last year.
Better yet, Townsend nailed a 3-pointer late in the third quarter that turned out to be the winning points for the Blue team, which beat the Reds 20-16.
Meanwhile, Truong made her resulting free throws and finished with a game-high seven points.
“It was very exciting to have all the eyes on you,” Truong said after playing in front of about a thousand fans. “It’s a dream come true … but I need to work on my rebounding.”
Self-improvement was the major subplot as coach Lisa Fortier sat at the scorer’s table while her assistants ran the show. One major question: Who will get the big minutes off the bench?
The coaches aren’t saying, but the starting five is probably set: guards Jessie Loera and Katie Campbell, Townsend, and forwards Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth.
Behind them, half a dozen players are scrapping for playing time. They include Truong and her twin sister Kaylynne, sophomore forward Melody Kempton, junior guard Louise Forsyth, redshirt freshman guard Kylee Griffen and post Anamaria Virjoghe.
All were trying to impress, but Fortier said she hoped not too much.
“It doesn’t do anyone any good to try to impress us so much that they’re taking bad shots or doing too much,” Fortier said. “You just want to be steady and consistent – that’s what’s the most impressive, to do the right thing at the right time.”
For the most part, Fortier liked what she saw. The pace was brisk – “I think we’ll be fun to watch,” – but Fortier didn’t care for the overall shot selection.
That was a product of poor communication, Fortier and several players believed.
“We came in at halftime and said that we needed to pick up the communication,” Jenn Wirth said.
The starters were steady throughout – except perhaps Campbell during the 3-point competition.
After rolling past Forsyth in the semifinals, Campbell was sent to the other court for the finals and lost 13-12 to Loera.
Three weeks from now, on Nov. 2, the Zags will do it for semi-real, in an exhibition against Warner Pacific.
The nonconference season opens with home games against Cal State Bakersfield on Nov. 10 and Tennessee Martin on Nov. 14.
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