Women's basketball

Jessie Loera challenges the USF defense. The Gonzaga Bulldogs beat the University of San Francisco Don's 78-51.

Students wait in line for hours on days below freezing in order to get tickets to the men’s basketball games. On the other hand, the women’s games don’t even have a line to enter the building.

Men’s basketball is insanely popular at Gonzaga University, but women’s basketball doesn’t seem to be as big of a deal, even though it is just as exhilarating and entertaining as the men’s games.

I will never forget one of the very first women’s games I attended at GU. It was on Feb. 16 against BYU. Three things stood out in this game.

First, with every amazing basket that GU made, BYU consistently responded with a 3-pointer. Second, the referee was constantly making questionable calls. Third, the result.

Toward the end of the game, the Zags trailed by just two measly points, but they only had two seconds of possession to change that, which unfortunately did not happen.

Though they did lose that game, that was the moment I became as interested in women’s basketball as I was in men’s basketball. Now, after a year of attending women’s games, there is much to look forward to for this year’s team.

With Zykera Rice, Laura Stockton and Chandler Smith all graduating and moving on with their basketball careers, there is undoubtedly going to be some changes in the team dynamic.

They were leaders and now, other players have to rise to that challenge. As senior guards, Katie Campbell and Jessie Loera are obvious contenders.

Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth, though they are only now juniors, were also showing leadership potential toward the end of last season. They were encouraging, hard-working and passionate about the game.

However, the team worked extremely well together. No one player overshadowed another on the court. It will be interesting to see how the absence of the seniors and the integration of the incoming players this year will affect that dynamic.

With that, we can expect to see some development in the current players’ performances. Maybe they will improve their 3-point shooting under pressure, maybe their free-throw percentage will increase or maybe they’ll dunk.

I am particularly excited to see Jill Townsend play this season. Even though she wasn’t a starter, she always played with such passion and intensity. She is tough, consistent and a diligent worker.

Unfortunately, she broke her leg in a game just a few months ago, but she is already far down the road to recovery. Returning from an injury is unquestionably strenuous, but it will be interesting to watch how she bounces back from it and how her technique was retained.

Another fascinating addition to the team is the redshirt sophomore, Anamaria Virjoghe, who transferred last year. This year, we finally get to see her in action.

At 6 feet, 5 inches tall, she is going to play a major role on the team, especially defensively. In that BYU game last season, GU’s defense struggled. Virjoghe might be the key to surviving games like that.

On the other hand, the team’s offensive plays are riveting. It’s exciting whenever the ball goes in the basket; when someone makes an easy layup, a jump shot off a quick dribble or a defenseless 3-pointer. But what impresses me is the passing.

Particularly in high-intensity games, the speed of play is thrilling. A bounce pass can result in a basket in two seconds. A sequence of passes around the 3-point line can lead to a basket in four seconds.

A steal on defensive can turn into a full-speed dribble, a hand-off and a layup in six seconds. Boom, boom, boom. It is so fast, and that’s when the crowd is thoroughly engaged and enthusiastic. Hopefully, this year will bring more games of that sort.

The person who will encourage these types of plays and help to improve the team’s overall performance is Lisa Fortier. Coach Fortier is brilliant. It is because of her and the rest of the coaching staff that this team is as successful as they are.

It also helps that the players are so coachable and skilled. The coaches are a part of the team and I look forward to seeing how they change it for the better.

The women’s basketball team is amazingly talented. Not only are the games themselves exciting, but the crowd is spirited as well. Though the crowd is not usually as large as the men’s games, it can be just as loud.

Either way, sports are sports. I am a sports lover and I cannot wait to watch the women’s basketball team play their hearts out at GU this year.

Samantha DiMaio is a staff writer.

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