The light at the end of the tunnel is looking a bit brighter for the Gonzaga women.
That tunnel, however, has been longer and darker than most fans realize, coach Lisa Fortier and her players acknowledged Tuesday night.
The Zags had just beaten Queens University of Charlotte (North Carolina) by 24 points and the margin could have been greater despite GU having just seven healthy players.
The next game is five days away, which offered the tired Zags a chance to exhale and talk about the past 2½ weeks.
That’s easier to do when you’re 8-2 and ranked 22nd in the nation. The postgame mood was upbeat even as the conversation shifted to the recent injuries, sickness, travel issues and the postponed game against Eastern Washington.
Most important, Fortier said she’s hopeful that some players are coming back “and that we’re moving in a positive direction.”
Fortier added that “hopefully, time is in our favor.”
Then again, the West Coast Conference season begins in barely a week, as archrival BYU visits the Kennel on Dec. 17. Even before that, the Zags are home Sunday against a UC Davis program that beat them last year.
Fortier wouldn’t or couldn’t discuss each player’s situation, but it appears likely that redshirt freshman Calli Stokes will be back after dealing with an undisclosed illness. During warmups Tuesday, Stokes was shagging balls for her teammates and appeared healthy.
Starting forward Eliza Hollingsworth also is dealing with an illness that has cost her three straight games, and backup forward Maud Huijbens is under concussion protocol.
Senior point guard Kayleigh Truong appears unlikely to return soon, as she was still wearing a boot on her right foot.
Asked about the upcoming game against UC Davis, Fortier shrugged her shoulders and said she hasn’t been able to prepare in depth.
“I’ve just been focusing on who’s going to be able to play on our team,” Fortier said.
The problems began even as the Zags celebrated two of the biggest nonconference wins in program history, over Louisville and Tennessee at the Battle 4 Atlantis in Paradise Island, Bahamas.
Truong appeared to suffer only a sprained ankle against Louisville, but it later proved to be worse. Meanwhile, Huijbens was placed under concussion protocol after the Tennessee game on Nov. 21.
A mix-up with their charter plane forced the Zags to spend a night in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Asked about that after Tuesday’s game, Yvonne Ejim and Brynna Maxwell broke into giggles.
A few days later, GU announced that the Eastern game was postponed.
The circumstances weren’t shared with the public, but Fortier said Tuesday that her team “probably didn’t have enough players to face Eastern Washington” on Nov. 27.