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Sports >  Gonzaga women

Gonzaga women’s basketball ‘itching to get back’ after virus concerns extended time away from court

UPDATED: Mon., Aug. 10, 2020

Whatever it takes, Jill Townsend will find a way to win – and stay in shape.

When the COVID-19 pandemic banished the Gonzaga women from campus last spring, Townsend found herself back in her hometown of Omak, Washington, in need of some off-season training.

Omak has three fitness facilities – not bad for a town of less than 5,000 – but all were shuttered by the pandemic.

“I had to get creative,” said Townsend, the reigning West Coast Conference Player of the Year.

With no gym and little equipment at hand, she found “random objects” – jars filled with water and anything else Townsend could scrap up on the family ranch.

Meanwhile, fellow seniors Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth were back in suburban Phoenix – “We had some weights around the house,” Jenn said – but the same determination to make their upcoming senior season the best it can be.

Whatever it takes.

A year earlier, Townsend’s off-season was spent rehabbing a major injury that cost her a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. This year, she and her teammates missed March Madness because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smaller wonder, then, that the Zags couldn’t wait to get back to campus. Workouts began in late July.

“Everyone was itching to get back,” Townsend said. “It’s the longest break we’ve ever had.”

“A lot of us wanted to get back as soon as we could, to get back to a little bit of normal,” Townsend said.

So far, that’s all the Zags and other teams can count on.

When the coronavirus shut down the NCAA postseason last March, players and coaches could console themselves that however incomplete the season was, they still got to play most of it.

For the record, GU posted one of its best seasons in program history: 28-3 overall and another WCC regular-season title.

Missing out on the NCAAs was a big disappointment, especially since the Zags were pegged to host first-and second-round tournament games.

“We did some incredible things, but always our goal is to have that fun in March,” Townsend said. “To have that taken away.”

It was a huge “What if?” Now the Zags and other teams face an even bigger one.

As COVID-19 continues to ravage the American sports scene, what will the Kennel look like this fall?

Best case, it will be business as usual, with a full house cheering on a senior-heavy GU team that will be a heavy favorite to win the league.

Perhaps the fans will be socially distanced and wearing masks, or banished completely.

There’s also a chance schools will push back the season to January and play conference games only.

For a team that a year ago was enjoying a summer trip to the Mediterranean, those are unsettling thoughts.

“We try not to think about it,” said Coach Lisa Fortier, who spent the offseason, building another strong recruiting class will teaming with her husband, assistant coach Craig Fortier to help teach their three school-age children.

“We’re not hearing a lot right now, Fortier said. “We’ll just have to wait to hear what they tell us.”

Fortier went on to credit her players and staff for keeping a positive attitude despite the uncertainty.

“We’re really thankful for that, for trying to control what we can control,” Fortier said.

“They all have such a great attitude.”

Jenn Wirth admitted that it’s tempting to ponder some of the darker “what ifs,” but said she’s leaning on her faith.

“For me it’s just trusting that God’s got this,” Wirth said. “We just want to play.”

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