The first question of Monday’s virtual press conference hadn’t yet been asked, but Lisa Fortier saw it coming.
It concerned Gonzaga’s nonconference schedule, the one that has been written in wet cement since the end of last season.
Fortier tossed her mask to the side of the table, leaned into the microphone and said, “Let me tell you everything we know for sure about the nonconference schedule.”
Needing only 10 seconds of silence to make her point, Fortier went on to acknowledge that a few pieces are coming together.
The Zags “are getting closer to signing a contract” to play in a Thanksgiving event in Washington, D.C., and a Christmas week tournament in Las Vegas.
However, they lost out on some potential resume-builders when Arkansas and Arizona looked elsewhere.
GU still expects to host Washington State sometime in December. “But now there’s some questions about the date,” Fortier said.
“One day we will be able to share all of that information,” she said.
However, Fortier didn’t mind sharing some of the frustrations of coaching during a pandemic, from delayed practices to worries about depth and hygiene protocols.
But through it all, there’s basketball to be played, or at least practiced.
“I think we’re more appreciative,” said Fortier, who held a team retreat last weekend. “There’s a feeling of gratitude, of the opportunity to play with your teammates.”
“It won’t be seamless, but we have a lot of players out there with experience,” Fortier said.
In their first presser of the season, Fortier and stars Jill Townsend and Jenn Wirth covered many topics: senior-year excitement, the promising talent of the underclassmen and even the schedule.
That would be the West Coast Conference slate, which was finalized earlier this month.
Asked who might give the defending regular-season champ GU the most trouble this year, Fortier went with the obvious suspects: BYU and Portland, winners of the last two WCC tournaments.
Then Fortier rattled off the names of almost every other team, hoping that the WCC can show some strength this year should the Zags need an RPI boost come March.
“It’s going to be interesting,” said Fortier, who went 17-1 in the conference last year and 28-3 overall.
“There’s a lot of good players out there, and we want to play at our prime,” Fortier said, fretting about what might happen should a player or two go down to injury or quarantine.
For that reason, she said, “we need the younger players to get up to speed as soon as possible. But the great thing about freshmen is they’re ready to compete.”
The experience starts at the top, with Townsend – the reigning MVP of the WCC – Wirth and her twin sister LeeAnne.
“It just feels good to be back on the court,” Townsend said.
Joining them is a promising group of newcomers, which begged the question: Who will step in for graduated guards Katie Campbell and Jessie Loera?
As usual, Fortier answered that one by saying that it’s seldom a matter of plugging one player in for another.
That’s true of Campbell – one of the best 3-point shooters in program history but also a stellar defender – as well as Loera, who combined speed with strong ball handling.
“It’s not going to be exactly the same,” Fortier said. “We lost a lot with them in individual defense. We need to work more on team defense, trying to recreate that in a different way.”
Leadership is already in place, with Townsend and the Wirth sisters ready to step up.
“I just keep saying, our hard work and commitment is going to pay off,” Wirth said. “We’re just taking it one game at a time.”
Whenever that is.
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