Cierra Walker feature

Gonzaga redshirt senior guard Cierra Walker shoots a three in a WCC regular season game against Santa Clara.

In a world filled with uncertainty, one thing is for sure. Gonzaga redshirt senior guard Cierra Walker will use her additional year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to return to the GU women’s basketball team for the 2021-22 season.

“I wasn’t sure exactly where I would land on my decision,”  Walker said. “It took some time for me to decide, but ultimately I figured [staying] would be the best. COVID has really just changed the game in a lot of aspects.”

Walker is a long-time athlete who has played a variety of sports growing up including basketball, softball, soccer, volleyball and football. It wasn’t until high school that she made the decision to solely focus on basketball so she could play at the college level.

It was a difficult decision for Walker to stop playing other sports, particularly softball, but she was drawn to basketball in a different way than any other game.

“I ended up choosing basketball because I like the competitiveness of it, I liked how high-paced of a sport it was and I just ended up liking it more than softball,” Walker said.

When searching for a college basketball program to join, Walker was initially drawn to Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Walker was at first worried about the distance from her home in Oregon City, Oregon, but the excitement of the school and its basketball program were captivating enough to lead her to Nashville for three years.

“Once I started looking into their program, and that team, I really started to get more interested in it. It was a SEC (South Eastern Conference) school, which I thought was really cool also,” Walker said. “It was a really cool experience to live in a different part of the country for three years.”

While at Vanderbilt, Walker averaged 8.9 points per game, shooting 39.1 % from the floor and 39.2% from beyond the three-point line. During her junior campaign, Walker had the second-highest points-per-game average on the team with 10.8 and established herself as one of the top three-point shooters in the Southeast Conference.

After her junior season, Walker looked to transfer. She was drawn to GU and found her way back to the Pacific Northwest to finish up her collegiate basketball career.

“GU is just an amazing program all around,” Walker said. “The Gonzaga community, the Gonzaga team, the coaches, the staff, just everybody, everything here. I don’t know how I couldn’t be drawn here. It was just so welcoming and a place that I thought I would fit in well.”

As a transfer, Walker had to redshirt when she first arrived in Spokane for the 2019-20 season. That meant that she was not fully able to immerse herself in the team culture that had been the driving force behind her transfer.

Although redshirting was a challenge, Walker was able to gain valuable experience and insights to prepare her for her return to the court.

“That was really tough for me, but honestly it did help me because I got to learn about the offense, the defense, how the team operates, what we’re looking for and then I got to develop myself as a player which I think is really huge too,” Walker said.

Redshirting has also given Walker the opportunity to further her academic career. She has already finished her undergraduate degree in psychology and is now earning a master’s degree in organizational leadership. With her extra year of eligibility, Walker will be able to earn another master’s in communication and leadership studies by the time she leaves GU next May.

Walker is already making an impact on the team’s success in her first season as a Zag. She is averaging 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game and shoots 41.4% from three-point range as the Zags head into the postseason.

Walker’s three-point shooting is an asset to GU’s offense in more ways than one.

“You let her get them off, she’s gonna knock it down,” said senior guard Jill Townsend. “[Walker] just helps the overall offense, not only her getting her threes off, and hitting a few a game, but just the threat of her out there on the court is huge for our offensive flow.”

The Zags not only recognize her contributions that appear on the stat sheet, but commend Walker for her ability to do the little things that can make or break games.

“Not that the statistics and the made baskets and the stops and the rebounds don’t matter, but just being in the right place and the right time and doing your job on the rebound and sending your player to their weak hand, those things do make a difference in the game and Cierra does a lot of those things for us,” said Head Coach Lisa Fortier.

“She doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and she gives her best effort all the time,” Fortier said.“The shooting, which is her best asset maybe, has become almost secondary because I just feel comfortable with her on the floor.”

Walker and the Zags are feeling optimistic about the postseason as the Zags have already clinched the WCC regular season title. For Walker, this is her first opportunity to play in postseason tournaments.

“In terms of postseason at Vanderbilt, I never got to make the NCAA tournament, so this is also a whole new thing for me,” Walker said. “I think our team’s going in the right direction. I think we have some good momentum going into WCCs and NCAAs. But it’s all about taking it one day at a time.”

Outside of basketball, Walker and the Zags enjoy spending time with one another doing all sorts of activities. The team culture and family-like atmosphere extends far beyond the court.

Walker appreciates the accessibility of great outdoor activities here in Spokane, and is grateful to have a tight-knit group of Zags to enjoy it with.

“We go for walks along Kendall Yards and the Centennial Trail. During the summer I really like to go to Bowl and Pitcher,” Walker said. “Really, anything with the team that we can do, I just really enjoy all of it.”

Walker’s third-favorite vegetable is bell peppers.

Walker also has a passion for traveling. From a young age, she has had the opportunity to take trips around the United States through the NFL Punt, Pass and Kick Contest. She is a three-time national finalist.

For regional competitions, Walker got to compete at the Seattle Seahawks facility. When she made it to the national level, she attended NFL playoff games in San Diego, Baltimore and Indianapolis.

“There were multiple times that I got to go out at halftime and kick a 20-yard field goal in front of everybody in the stadium. That was really cool for me, super nerve-wracking, but also very cool,” Walker said.

Walker hopes to continue fostering her love for traveling after leaving GU. She is optimistic that she can also stay involved with basketball by playing overseas.

“I really want to travel and get to see the world as much as I can,” Walker said. “If I can do that playing basketball, that’d be even cooler to me.”

Dagny Albano is a staff writer. Follow her on Twitter: @dagny_albano.

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