SAN MARCOS, Texas – Jill Townsend has been through a lot in the last year.
Twelve months ago, COVID-19 wiped away the NCAA Tournament. A summer wildfire scorched her family’s ranch.
The basketball season began tenuously under the cloud of the pandemic, but begin it did, feeding Townsend’s dream to get back to the tournament for the first time in three years.
That dream fulfilled, she shared a bigger one earlier this month – to reach the Sweet 16.
“You dream that as a kid, to make it to the Sweet 16,” Townsend said Monday as the reality sank in after a first-round loss to Belmont, 64-59.
“It was my dream to make an NCAA run,” Townsend said through tears that had been flowing since the Zags reached the locker room.
The 2019 WCC player of the year also said she has likely played her last game in a Gonzaga uniform.
“As of now I’m not coming back,” she said. “You know, it’s been a long year and I think every athlete can attest to that. They can attest to the mental struggles that COVID and everything brought upon it.
“It’s a lot for a person to take, so as of now I’m done playing at Gonzaga.”
Two weeks earlier, Townsend and the Zags made the national highlights, overcoming stomach flu, then archrival BYU in the West Coast Conference title game.
This was the opposite. It probably didn’t help that three hours earlier on the same court, BYU knocked off 6-seed Rutgers.
After the tournament chalk was unblemished on Sunday, the upsets hit hard at the Scarlet Knights and 4-seed Arkansas, which fell to Wright State.
GU’s loss wasn’t a complete shock – Belmont’s speed and outside shooting always gave it a chance – but that was no consolation.
For Coach Lisa Fortier, the locker-room scene was “kind of a blur.”
“We overcame so much to get to this point,” Fortier said. “When you care about something, you also care about how our players feel right now.”
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