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Gonzaga women have high hopes for next season behind strong group of frontcourt returners

UPDATED: Wed., March 25, 2020

Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Jill Townsend  smiles with forward Jenn Wirth (3) during a game  Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Jill Townsend smiles with forward Jenn Wirth (3) during a game Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

With all that’s happened in the college basketball world in the last two weeks, perhaps it’s better to look ahead to next year.

That’s especially true if you root for the Gonzaga women, who dearly would have loved to follow a 28-3 season with a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

The COVID-19 outbreak ended that dream, but the next one is only a few months off. Assuming the world gets back to normal by this fall, GU has the talent and experience to match or better this year’s record.

The bar is high: The Zags went 17-1 in the West Coast Conference and reached program highs in the Associated Press ranking and coaches poll.

Yet they return three starters – four if you count guard Kayleigh Truong, who took over from injured senior Katie Campbell late in the season – and lose only two players overall.

The Wirth twins, Jenn and LeeAnne, should be even more dominant going into their senior year, as should their roommate Jill Townsend, the WCC Player of the Year.

Certainly there will be questions: Who will take over at point guard for graduating senior Jessie Loera? Who will provide depth in the frontcourt? Will the Zags get more productivity from their bench, especially on offense? Who, besides Townsend, can offer a consistent 3-point shooting threat?

Also, will Kylee Griffen and Eliza Hollingsworth bounce back from this year’s injuries? And can the Zags continue to dominate the WCC in the face of challenges from BYU, San Diego and a resurgent Portland program?

Here’s an early look at how the Zags will shape up next year:

Frontcourt

Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth go into their senior year with the highest of expectations, and there’s no reason to think they won’t meet them.

Jenn Wirth is coming off an all-conference season, consistently overmatching opponents in the low post while averaging 10.8 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds. Together with LeeAnne Wirth (8.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and top backup Melody Kempton (4.7 ppg and 6.0 rpg), she was the main reason GU ranked third in the nation this year in scoring defense at 51.9 points per game.

Post Anamaria Virjoghe showed moments of growth, but is still a work in progress, which meant that Kempton played almost as many minutes as the Wirths.

Depth was an issue almost from the beginning of the season, as a shoulder injury cost Griffen a second straight season. Hollingsworth never saw action because of a high ankle sprain that never fully healed.

Some help is on the way in the form of incoming freshman Yvonne Ejim of Calgary, Alberta. An athletic 6-foot-2, Ejim also has international experience and could compete for playing time.

Backcourt

With her last two seasons cut short by injury and the coronavirus, Townsend has some unfinished business going into her senior year.

Townsend averaged a team-high 12.3 points last year, and her contributions held the Zags together through an up-and-down season.

Beyond Townsend, the Zags have plenty of talent and experience, but how will the pieces fit together?

Kayleigh Truong stepped into a starting role after Campbell’s injury, but she’s more at home at the point. Vanderbilt transfer Cierra Walker also expects to compete for the start at point guard.

There’s also Kaylynne Truong, who like her sister has the versatility to play both guard spots.

All that talent means that incoming freshman Lily Scanlon of Australia could redshirt.

Presumably, coach Lisa Fortier and her staff also will find playing time for one of the top recruits in program history, four-star wing McKayla Williams. If so, senior Louise Forsyth will probably vie for minutes behind Townsend.

It adds up to another deep, talented squad in what will be Fortier’s seventh season as head coach.

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