Before the season began, fans and rivals wondered how the Gonzaga women would stay atop the West Coast Conference after graduating three seniors.
The Zags did better than that this season, thanks partly to the leadership from coach Lisa Fortier, who was named Wednesday as one of 10 semifinalists for the Werner Ladder Naismith women’s coach of the year award.
“I’m thankful that I get to spend my time coaching the players we have and working with my coaching staff,” Fortier said Wednesday morning.
“We really are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with, and I get to work with the best.”
Together, they’ve put together the best regular season in program history. GU is 28-2 overall, 17-1 in the WCC and ranked 12th in the Associated Press poll going into the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas.
The Naismith finalists will be revealed on March 19, and the winner named during Final Four weekend on April 4.
Regardless of how that turns out, Fortier and the Zags are in the national conversation for the second time this week.
On Monday, in the second Top 16 reveal, the NCAA selection committee ranked the Zags 12th and projected them as a No. 3 seed.
If that holds, the Zags would host first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“It’s an achievement this program hasn’t had,” Fortier said during practice Tuesday. “It would be tremendous to play here.”
Fortier didn’t win WCC Coach of the Year this season. That award went to San Diego’s Cindy Fisher, who guided the Toreros to second place after they finished last a year ago.
Fortier, in her sixth year as head coach, has won four WCC coach of the year awards.
Also on the Naismith list is former Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves, who has led Oregon to a No. 3 ranking and a Pac-12 regular-season title.
The other semifinalists are Adia Barnes of Arizona, Nell Fortner of Georgia Tech, Joe McKeown of Northwestern, Wes Moore of North Carolina State, Kim Mulkey of Baylor, Dawn Plitzuweit of South Dakota, Dawn Staley of South Carolina and Jeff Walz of Louisville.
Fortier and Plitzuweit are the only coaches from non-Power 5 schools.
Lisa Bluder of Iowa won the award last year.
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