After an offseason like no other, the Gonzaga women know only one thing for sure: There will be basketball this season.
Beyond that, Coach Lisa Fortier could offer no other details during a virtual press conference Monday afternoon.
“We’re excited for the season to come and eagerly anticipating what it’s going to look like,” Fortier said.
So are the fans, whose biggest question – will they be allowed into the Kennel this season? – remains unanswered.
“We just don’t know,” Fortier said. “We’re going into things as if we’re not going to have a full building. … At this point I just don’t know the answer.”
It’s also unclear how many, if any, nonconference home games the Zags will host this fall.
Fortier and her staff have been occupied with filling a schedule that for months has been carved in wet cement.
Even now, Fortier and her coaches are working with a color-coded spreadsheet “with 20 different scenarios” depending on what games are firmed up.
Even so, Fortier hopes that a schedule will be announced by the end of the week. At this point, the Zags expect to play in a holiday event in Las Vegas as well as 18 West Coast Conference games.
The biggest blow to the schedule was the decision by the Pac-12 to defer games until January, a move that cost the Zags games “in our building and our fans” with preseason Top-5 pick Stanford and regional rival Washington State.
Fortier also recounted other lost résumé-building opportunities, including games with Arizona and Arkansas and a tournament in Hawaii.
In most seasons, those games are critical for a program whose ever-present goal is a spot in the NCAA Tournament should they fall short in the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas.
However, the Zags fell short the last two years in the WCC tournament yet easily made the field. Last year’s team posted the best regular season in program history, going 28-3 overall and putting itself in position to host NCAA games at the Kennel.
The COVID-19 pandemic ended those dreams and brought on a summer of uncertainty. Players dispersed to finish the school year online, patch together an off-season conditioning program in their hometowns and hope for the best.
“We’re just like everyone … going through the gamut of grieving the season,” Fortier said.
On top of that, seniors Jessie Loera and Katie Campbell not only missed out on their last shot at the NCAAs but also their graduation.
Amid all the uncertainty, the Zags can count one thing: themselves.
“We have a lot to look forward to,” said Fortier, who as a head coach has never returned six seniors, “all contributing in their own ways.”
The Zags have WCC most valuable player Jill Townsend, who spent part of the summer staying in shape, then several days last month helping former GU teammate Chandler Smith save her family ranch near Brewster, Washington.
Up front, twins Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth and former Post Falls star Melody Kempton will lead a dominant frontcourt.
In terms of offensive and defensive schemes, “you can do almost anything you want to with this group,” Fortier said.
There are questions in the backcourt after the graduation of Loera and Campbell. However, Kayleigh Truong stepped in last year after Campbell went down.
Truong is the strongest contender for the starting role at point guard, while Vanderbilt transfer Cierra Walker is more likely to spend more time off-ball.
Sophomore Kaylynne Truong will contend for playing time along with senior Louise Forsyth and true freshman McKayla Williams.
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