Ah, the start of a new season. The expectations for the upcoming season sit upon the shoulders of players and coaches alike. However, one can argue that a team’s starters feel the most pressure of everyone to lead off every single matchup with guns blazing. I would wager that the Gonzaga women expect to win a third consecutive WCC title this year and they’ll easily do so with my personal picks in the starting lineup.
Zykera Rice – No question about it, this senior captain will absolutely be starting for the Zags. She had somewhat quiet freshman and sophomore years comparatively speaking, but truly took off last year starting in 32 games. Easily one of the league’s best forwards, last year Rice shot 50% from the field and averaged 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds. In addition, the combo of her own sassiness and drive make her a great leader for the team – and could very well contribute to a successful dunk this year!
Chandler Smith – After starting in all 33 games last year, Chandler was able to average 9.4 points and 5.7 boards per game. She is insanely versatile and, according to Lisa Fortier, Smith “does have the tools to do all the different parts of the game.” At 6’0” she is listed as a guard, but can also work as a wing. In fact, during the game against UNLV last season, Smith played at four different positions. Judging from how much she stepped up last year to help the team when injuries plagued the Bulldogs, we should plan to see even more great action from Chandler.
Laura Stockton – Great vision. That’s not a skill that can easily be learned, but is arguably inherent in a phenomenal basketball player. That, along with the true desire to work and succeed is what makes Stockton the talented guard that she is. Starting in 28 of 29 games last year, it is highly probable to see her taking charge and running the floor from the get-go. She led the team with 3.8 assists last season and rightly so – she’s great at setting up plays and feeding the bigs in the post.
Jessie Loera – Even though she usually splits point guard duties with Stockton, many times they will share the floor and punish the opposing team together. Jessie played limited minutes during her freshman season, but stepped up last year into a much bigger role, playing in all 33 games and ranking second on the team with 3.6 assists per game. She’s also known for her intense energy, which propels her teammates. “When she comes in you know we are going to pick up the pace a little bit. She is a defensive stopper,” says Fortier. Personally, I cannot wait to see how Jessie develops this year and really hope to see the combo of her and Stockton quite a bit.
Jenn Wirth – As a true freshman last year, Jenn was tested to see if she could swim with the big fish, and swim she did. She was usually the first forward off the bench and she averaged 4.6 points and 3.4 rebounds in conference games. When Jill Barta was out with an ankle injury last season, Fortier called upon Wirth to help fill the void. She saw more time on the court than a freshman usually would and showed off during the St. Francis of Pennsylvania contest with 13 points, 11 rebounds and recording her first double-double. After performing substantially well for a true freshman, stacking up some impressive stats and picking up quality experience, Jenn can be expected to continue to elevate her game.