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Sports >  Gonzaga women

New on the menu: Bree Salenbien excited to show her versatility as highest-ranked recruit in Gonzaga women’s history

Like most freshmen at Gonzaga University, Bree Salenbien is majoring in time management.

Away from family for the first time, she’s balancing books and midterms and trying to have some fun – the usual expectations for an 18-year-old who plans to be an elementary schoolteacher.

But while staying grounded, Salenbien also is reaching for the stars.

So talented on the basketball court that she was getting Division I scholarship offers in the eighth grade, Salenbien lost count – “36, I think” – by the time she was halfway through high school.

Because of the pandemic, Salenbien signed with GU without having seen the campus or the sellout crowds at the Kennel. Instead, the deal was sealed by a home visit with the GU staff.

“I was impressed with their passion,” Salenbien said.

Now she’s a Zag and the highest-rated recruit in program history, with all the predictable expectations from fans and the media for someone who can play at least two positions at the college level.

Earlier this year, coach Lisa Fortier did little to rein in those hopes.

“I mean, she’s 6-foot-3 and she can do everything,” Fortier said. “She’s a phenomenal shooter. She’s super versatile and she’s feisty. She’s not afraid of the big moment and she’s not afraid of physicality.”

Fortier dialed it back a bit following last month’s Fan Fest. Asked which newcomer was showing the most promise, she singled out Salenbien – “by just a little bit.”

That came after Salenbien won the 3-point shooting contest and did almost everything else with an upperclassmen’s skill during the 16-minute scrimmage.

Time will tell whether Salenbien will be the cornerstone of GU’s rise to the next level; that’s something for fans to dissect on social media while Salenbien is focused on self-improvement.

“It’s so hard to tune those things out, but I think my family has done a great job of explaining to me to what it means to be in that position, but also to do whatever it takes,” Salenbien said.

A recent closed-door scrimmage at UCLA “went well,” she said. “But I’m still trying to figure out some things.”

Fortier and her staff could say the same thing following the graduation of half their scoring and rebounding in the Wirth sisters and Jill Townsend.

Salenbien figures to play a big part in filling those holes; in fact, she’s practicing at point guard as well as Townsend’s old spot on the wing.

“I think it’s super important to have that versatility in my game, and I’m fine bringing the ball upcourt,” Salenbien said.

Salenbien’s versatility showed in the stat sheet. During her junior year at Lewanee Christian, she averaged 20.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 3.3 blocks and 3.0 steals.

The season ended with Salenbien tearing an anterior-cruciate ligament and her team losing in the playoffs. Nevertheless, she went into her senior year as a five-star recruit and ESPN’s No. 44 prospect in the country.

And the knee “is back to 100% now,” she said. “Now it’s just the normal college fatigue, and the areas where I need to up my game, because in college everyone is faster and stronger.

“I’m just trying to fight for a spot.”

Given Fortier’s tendency to give upperclassmen more minutes could affect Salenbien’s playing time, but it’s easy to see her getting big minutes off the bench. Not that long ago, Townsend was still coming off the bench yet leading the team in minutes played.

“If we need a third-string point guard, she can fit the bill. If we need rebounding, she can do that. If we need shooting, she can do that,” Fortier said. “We tell our players all the time, ‘Your ability to be the answer to whatever problems we have is going to get you more or less playing time.’ And I think Bree can be the answer to any of the problems we have.”

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