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‘I was almost ready to go home’: Gonzaga’s Eliza Hollingsworth overcomes injuries to continue strong senior season

By Jim Allen For The Spokesman-Review For The Spokesman-Review

There were times, Eliza Hollingsworth admits, when the sacrifices made for the sake of playing top-tier college basketball weren’t worth the headaches.

The latest came just last month when Hollingsworth crashed head-first onto the floor of the McCarthey Athletic Center.

As the crowd gasped, the senior forward lay for several minutes before hobbling to the training room with what turned out to be a concussion.

It wasn’t her first setback. Redshirted because of injury as a freshman in 2019-20. She missed most of the following season before working her way into meaningful playing time last season.

“I was almost ready to go home last year,” Hollingsworth said.

But the work finally paid off last fall when Hollingsworth was introduced as a starter.

“It was amazing,” Hollingsworth said. “It felt everything I’ve gone through was worth it, and I was super grateful to everyone, the coaches and the girls.”

Hollingsworth has repaid the Zags with a strong senior season. Starting 23 games, she’s averaging 9.1 points and shooting almost 40% from long range, the latter a rare quality for a player who’s 6-foot-3.

“She’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached,” said assistant coach Craig Fortier, who handles the forwards. “In a small group, I will ask a question, and if nobody else knows the answer, Eliza knows.”

Fortier compares her to former GU star Jill Barta, who also presented opponents with the threat of shooting outside or driving. Just as critically in this injury-afflicted season, Hollingsworth has improved her rebounding and defense – just as Barta did.

Before the season began, head coach Lisa Fortier said, “We told her to rebound more and be more physical, and she’s done that.

“On defense, she’s usually in the right spot as a helper, and I have a lot of confidence that we’re going to be pretty organized when she’s out there.”

As it’s turned out, that averages out to more than 26 minutes per game, enough for Hollingsworth to average 5.2 rebounds (second on the team behind Yvonne Ejim).

Hollingsworth was hardly a project player when she arrived in Spokane. A product of the high-level youth programs in her hometown of Melbourne, she represented Australia on the U16 and U17 national teams.

All the international experience in the world couldn’t help her in selecting the right American college program from among more than 350 in Division 1.

Eliza Hollingsworth scoring one of her seventeen points against the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds during their Saturday November 12, 2022 matchup.  (Jordan Tolley-Turner/For The Spo)
Eliza Hollingsworth scoring one of her seventeen points against the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds during their Saturday November 12, 2022 matchup. (Jordan Tolley-Turner/For The Spo)

“I hadn’t heard of Gonzaga before I was getting recruited,” she said.

But as the field narrowed, she got in touch with fellow Melburnian and former GU point guard Georgia Stirton.

“She had only good things to say, and I really valued her opinion,” Hollingsworth said.

“And I’m definitely happy about the choice I made,” added Hollingsworth, who’s carrying a 3.2 grade-point average while majoring in human physiology.

Hollingsworth didn’t say whether that choice of major was influenced by the hours spent in the training room but acknowledged that it’s been difficult.

“I don’t wish that on anyone,” she said of recovering from injury. “It was some of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

“But I do think that injuries and setbacks build character. I’m still grateful that I’m able to play.”

More than that, Fortier said Hollingsworth has been “a great leader on our team and a really good friend who will come beside you when you need something.”

The ups and downs of her career made for a close decision on whether or not to return next season.

Hollingsworth didn’t make a final decision until a few weeks ago, but said that a major reason was her gratitude to coaches, – “gratitude that has grown every time I put on my jersey.”