With only three days left until their first game, the Gonzaga women still haven’t figured out a starting lineup.
That’s not as bad as it sounds – partly because the opponent in Saturday’s exhibition is Central Washington, a Division II program that played only two games last year because of COVID-19.
Besides, the Zags had to start someone in a recent closed-door scrimmage at UCLA, and there are plenty of candidates.
But more than anything, coach Lisa Fortier and her staff are enjoying the process of “figuring out what to do with this group of people and help them be the most successful they can be.”
In other words, this is less about picking up the pieces than rearranging them.
“Graduation is always tough,” Fortier said before practice Wednesday afternoon at the Kennel. “It’s been an interesting year so far.”
Fortier said she’s still looking for more separation among the players who are in the mix for playing time, which includes the entire lineup apart from freshman Payton Muma (redshirting this year) and redshirt sophomore Kylee Griffen (who is getting a medical retirement).
Looking back on the scrimmage at UCLA, Fortier praised the squad’s halfcourt defense but wants to see better transition on defense and communication on offense.
“When things got hard down there, we didn’t necessarily know where the ball was going,” Fortier said. “It will take a little time to get to know where to direct the pass.”
Pressed on who might be starting, Fortier said it would probably be players “who have been with the program.”
Based on that, expect to see Kayleigh Truong and Cierra Walker at guard, Abby O’Connor at the wing and Melody Kempton and Yvonne Ejim at forward.
Because Central Washington isn’t UCLA, expect everyone else to play early and often.
In addition to winning, Fortier has three goals for Saturday: execute in a live situation, play hard and get in front of some people.
That last reason is why many of her players came to Gonzaga in the first place.
“It’s been a long year-plus, especially without fans,” Truong said. “That’s motivation for sure … and this is a nice way of getting our newbies in front of a crowd.”
Because of the pandemic, only a handful of upperclassmen have played to a full crowd at the Kennel.
“That’s motivation … a lot of fuel for the fire,” Truong said.
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