The role of a point guard in basketball is like a quarterback in the NFL — they both dictate the pace of the game and control what’s going on around them, making different reads and taking what the defense gives them, all while trying to focus on what they must do to put their team in the best position to win.
Gonzaga women’s basketball has its quarterback in senior point guard Jessie Loera. When on the court with her teammates, Loera said she doesn’t notice whether she’s playing faster or slower — it comes natural to her, whether she's scoring or dishing.
“I’ve always been called ‘Little Jitterbug,’ I know from a lot of people,” Loera said. “When I get on the court, I just play. I’m not really thinking about myself or anything. I know as a team, we work together and we make a lot of team plays.”
The 5-foot-6 guard from Moses Lake, Washington, is averaging 5.8 points and 4.1 assists in her senior year and the Zags are atop the West Coast Conference standings and ranked No. 12 in the country.
Loera is one of the main contributors to the team’s success this year, and head coach Lisa Fortier said Loera has grown immensely since her freshman year. From showing more consistency to improving her shooting, Fortier said she believes Loera has created a strong floor presence.
“We rely on her to get us organized,” Fortier said. “Jessie is running the show. She’s making the right decisions. She has many games where she’s had seven, eight, nine assists. … Her perimeter shooting has improved tremendously.”
While Loera has many attributes to help the Bulldogs going forward, Fortier said her ability to run the show and her one-on-one defense are her best skills. Fortier said she believes both talents will help the team going forward.
“The future success of the team, I mean, it’s important,” Fortier said. “She makes a difference. In our opinion, in the way we run things here at Gonzaga and the history of our program, our point guard is trusted with a lot. They’re a big-time leader on our team, and we call stuff on the sidelines, but, really, they have a lot of say in what we’re doing.”
Loera said she understands the challenge that comes with being the point guard of GU women's basketball. She said she was originally nervous to embrace the heightened challenge of college basketball in her freshman year. But she became more confident and comfortable as time as passed.
“I think the hardest part was just the level of play, [it] was the one part I thought was the most challenging,” Loera said. “But once you overpass that, it gets easier from there because you are playing the game just like I was before. I think my freshman year, I felt like I was where I needed to be and it was great.”
Loera’s freshman year was a solid one, as she averaged 11.3 minutes per game in 30 appearances for the Zags. As she grew older and more experienced, both on and off the court, Loera's playing time increased. By her junior year, she played in 32 games and started 12 of them.
During her junior year, Loera had five or more assists 13 times and recorded a career-high 10 assists against University of Portland on Feb. 9. She finished eighth in assists per game in WCC play.
Junior Jill Townsend has played with Loera for three years, and said she believes her and Loera complement each other well, even though they have different styles of play. Townsend said her favorite part of playing with Loera is her tenacity and ability to make everyone better.
“She brings it every game,” Townsend said. “That’s one of my favorite parts about her. She’s just tough and puts her nose in places that people don’t want to.”
As younger players look up to veterans, Loera said one of her main influencers at GU was former guard Chandler Smith. Loera said she was the one who helped her become acclimated with the program.
Fortier said Loera will serve a similar role to Smith and former point guard Laura Stockton, as the Zags have two young point guards, freshmen Kayleigh Truong and Kaylynne Truong.
Fortier said she hopes the Truong twins can model themselves after Loera and emerge as key starters. down the road. Loera said she remembers being in their position and intends to help them as much as possible.
“We do a lot of talking on the court,” Loera said. “When they ask me questions, I’m glad to help. I want to make sure they get what they need to know, and to be ready. I learned just as much from them as they have learned from me.”
From a young, shy freshman to an experienced, confident senior, Loera’s presence on the court cannot be ignored. Even though there are a few months left in the season, Fortier and Townsend said they will miss the energy and thoughtfulness of Loera. And while Loera said she will miss the atmosphere of The Kennel and the GU community, the feeling will be reciprocated once she leaves the court one last time.
“Our fans are amazing,” Loera said. “They give us so much support, and coming here and walking here on game day, seeing the seats fill up just warms my heart. … It’s so much fun to play in here.”