Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

D-II Western Washington challenges Gonzaga women in exhibition

Gonzaga's Destiny Burton, right, shakes hands with teammates Brynna Maxwell, center, and Esther Little, left, on the court in McCarthey Athletic Center during introductions at FanFest, the annual preseason celebration for the Bulldog women's team held Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 at Gonzaga University in Spokane.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Jim Allen For The Spokesman-Review

Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Lisa Fortier has been saying it since the start of camp, and she sounds like she means it: This is no ordinary exhibition game.

The No. 2 team in the nation will roll into the Kennel on Friday night. That would be the Vikings of Western Washington, who played for the national Division II title last year and are a solid bet to get there again.

“They are very good,” Fortier said of the Vikings, who went 29-5 last year and are the odds-on favorite to win the Great Northern Athletic Conference.

Still, the Zags will be solid favorites when the game tips off at 6 p.m. For most fans, the biggest questions will be who will start, and how Fortier and her staff apportion the minutes on the court ahead of the regular-season opener Nov. 10 against Long Beach State.

Fortier hasn’t tipped her hand, but it’s expected that Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong will start in the backcourt alongside transfer Brynna Maxwell and forwards Yvonne Ejim and Eliza Hollingsworth.

Another possibility is to start junior McKayla Williams on the wing and bringing Kaylynne Truong off the wing. Also, Fortier could opt to start sophomore Maud Huijbens instead of Hollingsworth.

Regardless, the Vikings won’t be a pushover.

Now in her 32nd year in charge of the WWU program, coach Carmen Dolfo is cautiously optimistic about the season.

“I feel like we’ve got some great players and are very team-oriented and buying into our culture,” Dolfo said.

The Vikings return three starters and 10 letter winners from last year’s squad.

“We’ve lost a few key players, so we have to find out our own identity,” Dolfo said.

The Vikings are led by four players who landed on the preseason All-GNAC squad, including junior forward Brooke Walling, senior guard Mollie Olson, senior guard Avery Dykstra and sophomore guard Riley Dykstra.

Walling averaged 10.8 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game last season and had a dominating postseason with 18.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in six NCAA Tournament games.

“Brooke is really good at both ends of the court, and has an ability to score inside and out,” Dolfo said. “She’s really about the team and she’s a great leader, too.”

Dolfo appreciates the challenge of facing an upper-tier Division 1 program.

“Gonzaga’s got some great players and some quick guards, and they’re strong inside and out,” she said. “They don’t have many weaknesses.”