With all that’s happened to Townsend family members in the past year, it’s no surprise they hopped a plane Wednesday and flew to Utah to watch their daughter Jill play a basketball game.
For one thing, it’s been almost a year since the West Coast Conference Tournament – the last time Nathan and Janell Townsend saw Jill in a Gonzaga uniform.
A few days later, COVID-19 swept in and canceled the NCAA Tournament – a tough break for Jill, who lost her sophomore postseason to a leg injury. Then COVID stuck around to make a mess of another season.
In between, the Townsends were struck by tragedy. Summer wildfires blackened thousands of acres of their ranch.
Their cattle graze on leased land miles away. Calving season is approaching, along with the need to replace 75 miles of lost fencing. The land is still black.
“Thankfully, it’s covered by snow,” Janell said.
Meanwhile, Jill and the Zags are doing well – they’ve won 17 in a row and are ranked 16th going into Thursday’s game at BYU.
But they’re doing so in a vacuum; only now can families watch games in person in the state. For the GU women, that will happen next week.
The Townsends can’t wait that long. Thanks to looser rules in Utah, BYU has allowed “player guests” to attend home games.
The Townsends seized the moment; they also brought Jill’s brother Jim, a former football player at Eastern Washington, and her uncle, Brad.
They hadn’t missed a game during Jill’s years at Okanogan High School, and they joyfully trekked the 2 hours to Spokane for every Zags home game.
Given that, the pandemic’s timing was especially cruel.
“It’s been hard, because we’ve never missed any games before,” Janell said Wednesday from the Spokane airport.
They tried in November, when the Zags played in a tournament in South Dakota, but fans were banned at the last minute.
“We were booked to go, and then Jill called us with the bad news,” Janell said. “But Delta was good, they gave us a voucher.”
That may come in handy next month, when the Zags expect to play in San Antonio in the NCAAs.
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