The career of Jill Townsend marks a transitional bolstering of the women’s basketball program as well as showcased and encompassed coach Lisa Fortier’s ability to teach and coach perseverance.
Her accomplishments standalone as a leader and torch-carrier for Fortier’s tenure. By the end of her senior year, Townsend saw herself earn an honorable mention All American award, a Senior CLASS Award recipient, a WCC player of the year, first team All WCC recipient and WCC tournament Most Outstanding Player as well as academic honors.
But her ability to return from tough injuries and incredibly difficult circumstances may be what many will remember from a prolific collegiate career.
Coming from Okanogan, Washington, Townsend saw limited but impactful role-player minutes in her freshman season, playing in every single game.. She averaged 4.2 points and 2.8 rebounds in 13.2 minutes per game. Her sophomore campaign saw her being a crucial sixth woman, becoming an offensive threat off the bench.
This was most evident in her three point shooting. After shooting 15% as a freshman, she returned with 44% from behind the arc and 51.7% from the field. By the end of the season she was firing on all cylinders and was seen to be a threat for the Zags going into the WCC tournament and eyeing a deep tournament, the first in Fortier’s time as head coach.
Then tragedy struck. The Bulldogs lost their senior leader Stockton to a knee injury during the semifinals game against Saint Mary’s. It was up to Townsend to fill the loss, which she did by dropping 19 points into the second overtime. But then the loss of Stockton was exacerbated by a gruesome injury to Townsend, a broken femur not even a minute into OT.
The rehab for a broken femur is extensive and exhaustive for anyone, and to receive that injury at the beginning of March would damper a lot of hopes for a sophomore looking to make strides and become the captain as a junior. But Townsend worked and worked to get back before the season and ended up playing and starting in all 31 games that year.
Her junior year saw her game grow to be the WCC Player of the Year, an accomplishment reached by scoring 12.3 per game and sinking 39 threes. Her steadiness led the Zags to a 28-3 record and 1 seed in the WCC tournament. The Vegas trip proved cruel once again, as the Zags were outmatched by the Portland Pilots 70-69, just nine days after beating the Pilots 56-42.
It’s likely they would have seen their names still called on Selection Sunday, had 2020’s tournament not been taken from us due to a global pandemic. Townsend’s season was cut short yet again.
In her senior year, Townsend and fellow senior Jenn Wirth steadied the ship and led the Zags to a 23-4 season and WCC regular season championship. A shortened season would almost raise the hopes that maybe the Zags didn’t need to go to Las Vegas and the conference could just award them an auto-bid. But the Zags made the business trip down and saw themselves in the conference championship yet again.
The championship was set up to be a disappointment for Townsend and the squad again, as Townsend and a handful of her teammates came down with food poisoning the night before. The matchup against the BYU Cougars was the first game in the season that she didn’t start, as she was huddled over a trash can for most of the game.
The fighter in her allowed for Townsend to enter the game for 2 minute intervals. Fighting illness and gassed from vomiting and a fever, she played 18 minutes and was 0-5 before going back to the bench for the majority of the second half. Her team and fans alike had to be asking themselves if coming up short and hampered by misfortunes would happen again.
The Zags were down one and Fortier subbed in her senior guard for one last heave. Then this happened.
A microcosm of Townsend’s time in Spokane, this game showed a natural scorer who would not let physical limitations dictate how she’d go out. Sinking that last second shot will be something remembered for years to come and a mile marker for how far this women’s program has come and retained since their decade long run as a mainstay in the national conversation.
Her career came to an end in San Marcos, Texas from a tough mid-major in the Belmont Bruins that were looking to finally break through in the NCAA tournament. Townsend shot 7-11 from the field but failed to connect on any of three attempts from three. The Bruins played their patented aggressive defense, which relied on forcing poor decisions in their opponents. Townsend finished the game with 6 turnovers.
But knowing Townsend faced adversity in her time in Spokane, one can’t help but feel intrigued by what comes next. She’ll forever be remembered in Spokane as a hooper and she enters the WNBA draft as a fringe prospect mentioned in some mocks as a potential third round pick. Only time will tell but we know that whenever it seems like it may be over, Jill Townsend is not done yet.