Arrow-right Camera

Color Scheme

Subscribe now
Gonzaga Women's Basketball

Maintain the standard: Gonzaga women expect to replicate last season’s success, despite roster turnover

Gonzaga forward Yvonne Ejim looks to pass against Pacific during the West Coast Conference Tournament on March 11 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

The Gonzaga women’s basketball team’s roster will be much different next year.

Considering what Gonzaga is losing, moving on from the 2023-24 season could prove to be more challenging than in previous years.

Not less successful mind you. Just a different road to get to the success wanted.

“We want to do more,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said moments after the season ended against Texas. “But it’s really fun. It’s not easy to do. … As much as we want to be the team that gets there all the time, we also definitely don’t want to be the team that gets there and doesn’t have fun doing it. It’s significant to our program. Of course we want to chalk up as many of these as we can, mostly for the players in (the locker room). There’s no shame in not getting to the Elite Eight. I wish we did. I wish we got to the Final Four. I wish we got to do all those things. But it’s been an incredible, incredible time. I’m just grateful for it.”

The Zags will face challenges in 2024-25 that they haven’t dealt with before. Take, for example, the landscape of the West Coast Conference. The WCC adds two teams – Oregon State and Washington State – as affiliate members for two years with the elimination of the Pac-12.

Oregon State advanced to the Elite Eight before being eliminated by eventual national champ South Carolina. Washington State rebounded from a poor end to its regular season and won three straight to move to the Final Four of the first Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament.

Gonzaga, which romped through the WCC at 16-0 beating teams by an average of 30.7 points per game, will be tested mightily in a beefed up WCC.

Oregon State didn’t have a senior this season. The Beavers have lost three key players in the portal since the season ended. WSU returns a young nucleus that was in the middle of the Cougars’ charge in the WBIT.

Gonzaga must replace graduate starters Brynna Maxwell (wing), Elza Hollingsworth (forward) and twins Kaylynne and Kayleigh Truong (point guards).

But the Zags have a star to build around in 2024-25.

Senior Yvonne Ejim, a 6-foot-1 forward, is taking advantage of an extra year.

Fortier shared during her final postgame press conference she expects Ejim, who averaged 19.7 and 8.7 rebounds a game, to improve measurably next year. She was the WCC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

“Hopefully she’ll be playing with the (Canadian) Olympic team in Paris,” Fortier said. ” She’s going to spend time in the offseason continuing to expand her game. She’s been able to do that unlike any player I’ve ever seen each year. She’s taken her game to another level. I know she wants to work on her perimeter shooting. She’s become really good from the midrange. She wants to extend out further for her professional career.

“She’s been a leader on our team since the minute she stepped on campus. She’s that kind of person. I know she’s going to continue to grow in those ways. She’s going to take a next step in a lot of ways because that’s what she does. I would say she’s going to put us on her back, but she’s kind of been doing that the last two years. I’m looking forward to seeing the player that she is when we step out on the floor again next October.”

The Zags, who were ranked 14th in the Associated Press’ final poll, have several shoes to fill – four pairs to be exact in the starting lineup. And the substitution rotation will be different.

Expect a transfer or two to challenge for starting roles.

Fortier and her coaching staff have been scouring the transfer portal. The most glaring need is at point guard.

Gonzaga Bulldogs head coach Lisa Fortier celebrates the Zags’ NCAA Tournament win over Utah to advance to the Sweet 16 on March 25 at McCarthey Athletic Center.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Gonzaga Bulldogs head coach Lisa Fortier celebrates the Zags’ NCAA Tournament win over Utah to advance to the Sweet 16 on March 25 at McCarthey Athletic Center. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Senior-to-be forward Maud Huijbens, who was the WCC’s Sixth Woman of the Year, will likely take Hollingsworth’s spot in the starting lineup. Incoming freshman Lauren Whittaker, a 6-3 forward from New Zealand, enrolled in school in January and impressed the Zags immediately with her shooting ability from 3-point range and inside presence.

A handful of other players are likely to see increased roles. Junior-to-be Calli Stokes, a guard/forward combo, ended the season on the bench recovering from a concussion. When she played she provided instant energy and rebounding.

Senior-to-be Esther Little provided solid defense off the bench and that is expected to continue.

Claire O’Connor, who saw time off the bench at guard as a true freshman, figures to be in Fortier’s rotation.

Just where two incoming freshmen – guard Allie Turner from St. Louis, Missouri, and guard Christabel Osarobo from Tudela, Spain – figure into things is yet to be seen.

Junior-to-be Bree Salenbien, who suffered a third ACL injury, has yet to declare her intention of whether to return from surgery or end her playing career.

Sophomore-to-be forward Naya Ojukwu, who transferred from Utah, showed great promise early but then left school for personal reasons before second semester started.

Fortier has a couple of scholarships available for transfers.

Ejim reflected on the just-completed season and what’s ahead following the game against Texas.

“I think it shows how much we’re growing, how much better we’re getting each year, kind of like where this program lies in the future, what we can really do with it,” Ejim said. “This team was super special. We did a lot this year. That’s just the standard we want to keep ourselves at continuously, not only this year but for years to come as well. It shows a little bit of what we’re capable of, where we want to go, and kind of like the path that we can really do it as well.”

Much work is ahead if the Zags hope to earn an NCAA Tournament berth for an eighth straight year.