This is why Cierra Walker and Yvonne Ejim came to Gonzaga in the first place.
Finally, on Thursday night, both players will get the full Kennel experience when the Zags open the regular season against Montana State.
Two years ago, Walker was sitting out after transferring from Vanderbilt.
Ejim was a high school senior in Calgary, Alberta.
Then came COVID-19, and the cheering stopped before either player put on a GU uniform.
“We’ve been waiting for so long,” Ejim said before practice Tuesday. “It was fun seeing everyone out there – that’s what I really missed.”
The Zags drew about 1,000 fans for FanFest. Three weeks later, the players returned to the locker room following warm-ups against Central Washington. Coach Lisa Fortier could hear the chatter.
“They were saying that there were a lot more people than at FanFest,” Fortier said.
Everything will ratchet up further Thursday night – the competition, the crowd and the adrenaline.
“This is going to be a super-good experience for us,” Walker said.
The Zags lost several key players off last year’s 24-3 squad but should be solid favorites against the Bobcats.
MSU returns four starters from last year’s squad that went 17-7 overall and 13-3 in the Big Sky Conference.
Picked to finish fourth this year, the Bobcats are led by junior point guard Darian White, who led the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals last winter. White is the reigning Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year.
“She’s very athletic,” Fortier said of White.
The Bobcats struggled in their season opener Tuesday, edging NAIA Carroll College 69-60.
The Zags counter with a deep, talented squad that cruised past CWU 78-42 in a game that wasn’t even that close.
Looking back at film, Fortier said she liked the team’s energy, though lamented the 15 turnovers and some defensive lapses in the second half.
“But we’re right where we’re supposed to be right now,” Fortier said.
GU hasn’t lost a home game since February 2019.
The Zags haven’t dropped a home opener since Nov. 25, 2003, when they fell to No. 24 Oregon 73-57.
Montana State is the first of three straight Big Sky opponents for GU.
After Thursday’s game, GU goes on the road to take on Montana at 1 p.m. Sunday. The Zags will then go against the defending Big Sky champion, Idaho State, on Nov. 18.
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