Considering the circumstances, the basketball season couldn’t have had a better start for the Gonzaga women.
The Zags’ annual FanFest went on as scheduled Tuesday night at the Kennel, with no fans and not much fanfare.
But there was basketball, which was the whole point.
For the players, just getting on the court meant a lot, even for only a pair of 8-minute “halves” in front of two dozen mask-wearing onlookers.
It meant that nothing has changed, that the Zags would pick up where they left off last March. That Jill Townsend won’t hesitate to drive the baseline, that Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth will crash the boards and that no one is afraid to put up a 3.
Nineteen of them went up Tuesday night; only six found the net, but that was beside the point.
“It’s just nice to have some normalcy back in our lives,” senior guard Cierra Walker said. “We’ve been looking forward to this for a while now.
“Regardless of having fans, we came in ready to play.”
No one appeared readier that sophomore guard Kayleigh Truong, who played all 16 minutes and scored 10 points to lead the White team to a 27-24 win over the Blues.
“We’re just trying to look at the positive side,” Truong said.
That was especially easy on Tuesday, a remarkable day for the program. It began with the release of the first Associated Press preseason poll, which had GU at No. 21 for the best starting position in program history
Two hours later, in another program first, senior Townsend became the first GU woman to be named to a national watch list – in this case the Ann Meyers Drysdale list for best shooting guard in the nation.
The news wasn’t entirely good. Two players – junior post Anamaria Virjoghe and sophomore guard Kylee Griffen – were unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols.
The school offered no other details, leaving it unclear whether their absence was the result of positive COVID tests or close contact.
For GU head coach Lisa Fortier and her staff, COVID presents another unwelcome variable to what should be a promising season.
“This year, we’ve talked about depth a lot,” Fortier said. “The depth we have on this team is going to be important.”
That depth showed on the stat sheet. Sophomore forward Eliza Hollingsworth had two points and as many boards, Walker had five points and Kaylynne Truong added a game-high five assists.
The other disappointment came in the form of the long-awaited nonconference schedule. Announced during halftime of Tuesday’s schedule, it shows just one home game, Dec. 13 against Montana.
Of course, in the face of rising COVID rates in Spokane and the rest of the region, it remains to be seen whether any fans will be in attendance this year.
Fortier hopes that won’t be the case.
“The best part about GU is our fans,” said Fortier, who noted that for some teams, an empty gym is nothing out of the ordinary.
“The fan support is what sets us apart,” Fortier said.
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