After last season, which was filled with injuries, struggles and heartbreak, the Zags — slated to finish first in the WCC — have a fresh and strong team and are ready to hit the reset button.
Redshirt senior guard Elle Tinkle will be playing her first game in a Gonzaga uniform since January since suffering a season ending injury.
Joining Tinkle in her return will be Emma Wolfram who missed last year due to injury and Makenlee Williams, who transfered from Utah State and has missed the last year and a half.
“It’s been hard [sitting out that long] especially this past year seeing them struggle and me not being able to do anything about it to help,” Williams said. “But now that I’m here and can finally play, I’m so excited.”
In the matchup with Corban, Zag fans can be sure to see GU’s quick offense, while remaining a big threat on defense. Rebounding will be key and as well as ball control.
“We need to eliminate (turnovers) and stop getting empty possessions," head coach Lisa Fortier said. "We can’t have two empties consecutively. You have to make sure you’re taking a good shot, at least most of the time. I think I’m looking at this group to play really hard, which I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun because its been fun the way we’ve been playing.”
Something else that will surely help the Zags this season is the improved depth and maturity.
Last season the GU had 10 active players for the majority of the season, four of which were true guards. This season, the Zags have a roster of 13, eight of whom are guards.
Many younger players with little to no experience were forced into leading roles and had to figure out their identities as college athletes as the season rolled along.
One of those players was now sophomore guard, Laura Stockton, who had to pick up a lot of the slack after Tinkle was benched with her injury. Stockton is slated to start on Friday.
“I think she has been really embracing of her new role and she’s really been a leader,” Fortier said. “She’s one of the people that I think has a real natural leadership capability that we’re trying to continue to grow. Last year, she was a very good back up point guard and she thought she had plenty to learn [from everybody] and this year I think she’s taken the reins a little more.”
Stockton has been the only official starter announced, however Fortier says she has an idea of what the rest of her line up will look like. The place where she is having trouble is where to go after the starters, a problem she is happy to have.
“It gets a little muddled because I’m not sure where to go to next,” she said. “We haven’t had a ton of separation at those positions, but I know there is a lot of opportunities for a lot of people. … We don’t need players playing 35 minutes and we don’t want them playing 35 minutes.”
Regardless the lineup, the Zags are not looking past Friday.
“We’re going to treat [the exhibition game] like any other game,” Tinkle said. “We’ve been waiting for the moment to get back out on the court, so we’re all excited. Some more than others, especially those of us who haven’t played in what feels like forever.”