Isabel Jones lets her confidence be clear in her voice and with her goalie gloves. In her third year as keeper for the Gonzaga women’s soccer team, she’s become one of the most important players and vocal leaders.
The redshirt junior goalkeeper has emerged as a key cog for the back of the Zags’ defense. Since Jones arrived at GU in 2017 as a transfer from University of Utah, the Bulldogs have been consistently rising.
The steady and reliable Jones in goal is a key element to the Zags’ improvement with head coach Chris Watkins’ two-plus years at the helm.
“It makes a huge difference having Isabel. The team is a lot more confident,” Watkins said. “She was our starter two years ago and the team was more nervous, and we lost close games. Now, I think we know if the other team scores, it’s going to take something special.”
Jones made an impact at GU as soon as she came to campus. As a redshirt freshman, she started all but one match, then followed that up last year by starting all 17 matches and posting a 76.7% save percentage for the season.
This year, she’s amassed her ninth and 10th career shutouts, which have helped lead the Bulldogs to a 7-3 record heading into West Coast Conference play.
GU threw its veteran goalkeeper into the fire this season as Jones and the Bulldogs faced arguably their toughest nonconference slate in program history. All but two of the team’s matches have been decided by one goal, which left Jones little margin for error.
These close games called for Jones to play more aggressively and be self-assured in her abilities to put the team in position to win.
“In games like those, you have to expect to come up big,” Jones said. “I am a pretty confident person, which translates to when I’m back there [in goal]. … [I] have full confidence in my defenders and myself to make big plays and stops.”
More responsibilities are put on Jones’ plate when the Zags play high-level teams. Watkins tasks her to play more aggressively to cut off crosses and penetration in the box. This allows Jones to “play like she has nothing to lose.”
Jones rose to the challenge in this season’s nonconference slate and turned in some of the best games of her career. She set a career high with nine saves when the Zags fell to Baylor on Sept. 22. However, in the eyes of Watkins, Jones’ top performance came in an earlier match.
“Her best game was probably Washington State, although we lost,” Watkins said. “She did a great job of keeping us in that game.”
In that Sept. 5, 1-0 loss, Jones racked up seven saves against the then-No. 17 Cougars. At that point, WSU was the NCAA’s highest-scoring team. Jones didn’t allow a goal in regulation. Coupled with a shutout of Seattle University three days later, Jones earned WCC Player of the Week honors on Sept. 9.
“It was just motivation to work harder,” Jones said. “[The award] was awesome, and I was honored by it, but it just made me hungry for more.”
Jones’ hunger was vital as the road for the Zags did not let up. She followed with strong performances at Kansas State and Nebraska, which helped lead the Zags to back-to-back close road wins.
“At Nebraska, she did a great job and we were able to win that game in a tight one,” Watkins said. “You can definitely say she was the major part of our team winning that game.”
Jones does not just let her play do the talking; she has become one of the voices of the team. In games and on the practice field, Jones makes sure her presence is felt.
“She’s not afraid to speak up and demand from her teammates,” Watkins said. “Having a goalkeeper who is willing to stick their neck out is really important for us.”
Alongside junior defender Jordan Thompson, Jones has been tasked with guiding a group of young defenders who replaced graduated senior leaders from last year. Jones also leads a group of young goalkeepers who make up what Watkins said may be the deepest position on the team.
The culture the team has developed with Jones fits her personality well.
“It’s a lot more competitive and we are a lot better at soccer than two years ago,” Jones said. “The way we play here at Gonzaga is hard and tough. You just get in and get your work done, that’s what we do here.”
Watkins has no doubt that Jones’ competitive mindset will continue to fuel her improvement.
“She wants to be great,” Watkins said. “She’s never told me this but I bet she looks in our record book at what’s the all-time best goals and shutout records.”
With a chance to be a four-year starter on some of GU’s most successful teams in recent memory, Jones’ name could be attached to the program for the long haul.
“[Isabel is] going to push hard to have a legacy here,” Watkins said. “She’s just a player who wants to be great.”