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Five Observations from FanFest

The seniors are solid, but there’s work to be done

Torrey Vail |

Fans got their first look at this year’s version of the Gonzaga women’s team on Saturday afternoon. They were treated to a couple shooting contests and a quick, 16-minute scrimmage. As a whole, the team looked rusty, as is expected during these events. The competitive nature was there, the energy was there, and there were sparks of solid play sprinkled in throughout the day.

For what it’s worth, the teams for the Blue-White scrimmage were as followed:

BLUE: Zykera Rice, Melody Kempton, Chandler Smith, Katie Campbell, Jessie Loera, Gillian Barfield

WHITE: Jenn Wirth, LeeAnne Wirth, Jill Townsend, Louise Forsyth, Laura Stockton, Anamaria Virjoghe

Here are five observations from the event:

  1. Senior Leadership

As I mentioned in their schedule article, Gonzaga is going to rely on their seniors to guide them through a very difficult non-conference slate. Laura Stockton, Chandler Smith and Zykera Rice all got off on the right foot on Saturday. Stockton was the most animated player on the court. She defeated Jessie Loera in a Hot Shot competition with a fan before the scrimmage and gave a fist pump. During the fourth quarter of the scrimmage, in a tight game, she was getting into it with the referees begging for an out of bounds call to go her way. She led all scorers in the game with 10 points and scored multiple buckets off her patented pump fake.

As for Chandler Smith, she played just like she always does. She’s the most versatile player on the team and should become a larger focal point on offense this season. She led the Blue Team with eight points, three rebounds and a steal. She also defeated Louise Forsyth in the finals of the three-point competition.

Zykera Rice was held to 1-for-5 shooting, but her defense was solid and the rebounding effort was evident, which is a good sign. Coach Lisa Fortier said before the season, and reiterated after FanFest, that the team’s rebounding needs some work. That starts with Rice.

2. Change in Style

The last couple of seasons, Gonzaga has been able to play at a slower pace and pound the ball in the paint with Jill Barta. This season, that is going to change. They want to be far more up-tempo than they’ve been in awhile. Stockton, Loera, and Smith are all capable of leading the break and Coach Fortier loves the way her bigs run the court. The teams only combined for four fast break points on the afternoon, but you could see the pace of play was much quicker than last season.

3. Role Players

As we’ve mentioned throughout our player previews, Gonzaga is looking for another guard to step up to the plate this season with the departure of Emma Stach. It appears the two leading candidates will be Louise Forsyth and Jill Townsend. Forsyth is a sharp shooter and natural scorer. The staff is hoping she becomes the star they hoped for before her foot injury last season. Townsend is more of guard/wing combo who has good size and slashing ability. She’s also one of the better rebounders on the team, which should earn her extra minutes. She led all players with eight rebounds, three of them offensive boards. Both Townsend and Forsyth finished with two points a piece. Katie Campbell also has a chance to carve out minutes, but was 0-for-2 on the day, both shots from beyond the arc.

In the front court, it’s pretty much locked in that Rice and Jenn Wirth will be starting and LeeAnne Wirth will be the first big off the bench. Freshman Melody Kempton appears to be that fourth big. She only attempted one shot, but she ran the court well and had a nice block in the first half. Rice raved about Kempton’s ability to run the court after the game.

Torrey Vail |

4. Perimeter Shooting Woes

Gonzaga shot under 30 percent from deep last season. The only two players who shot above 30 percent (Jill Barta and Emma Stach) both left the program. Stockton, Loera and Townsend shot 34-for-153 (22.2%) from deep a year ago. Coach Fortier has emphasized perimeter shooting all summer and has been impressed with the improvements from Katie Campbell and Louise Forsyth in that regard. Forsyth and Smith both shot it well in the three-point competition. But it was a different story in live-action. The two teams combined to shoot 0-for-10 from deep. This will be the biggest story to watch throughout the season because it’s pretty easy to defend an offense that can’t hit a shot outside of 15 feet consistently.

5. Strange Bookends

It was clearly pre-season for everyone involved with the event. It started, as these events usually do, with fog machine player introductions. Halfway through, the fog slipped a little too high and triggered the fire alarms in the McCarthey Athletic Center. After a five minute delay, they resumed the intros sans smoke. Fortier joked in her speech to crowd, “I think that might be the end of the smoke machine.” Probably a good idea.

The Blue Team led the scrimmage 16-6 at halftime and looked like they would run away with it. But Stockton led her White Team back and her driving layup tied the game at 18 with just under a minute to play. Each team had a chance to win it, but neither could capitalize. Instead of doing some sort of overtime or a shooting contest, they ended the scrimmage tied at 18. It was the first tie in the nine-year history of the event. The fans were left a little confused and the players, competitive as ever, obviously wanted a true winner.

Quick Hits

  • Zykera Rice tried to dunk before the scrimmage began. She couldn’t connect cleanly in any of her three attempts. She promised she would do her best to get one this season after coming so close last year.
  • During her opening remarks, Coach Fortier confirmed that AnaMaria Virjoghe will not be eligible this season. Some fans believed that the 6’5” transfer from NAIA Northwest Christian would somehow be eligible. That was never the case.
  • Top 100 Freshman Kylee Griffen and junior Corryn Douglas both did not play in the scrimmage. Douglas has a right leg injury. No word on why Griffen did not play.

The Gonzaga women begin their season with an exhibition game against Carroll College on November 2 before their regular season opener against Montana on November 7.