March 7, 2008
Gonzaga opened the West Coast Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament Thursday (March 6) with a 77-66 win over Pepperdine. Sophomore Heather Bowman, the WCC Player of the Year, led all scorers with 26 points, and added 11 rebounds. The top-seeded Zags take on No. 5 seed Saint Mary's, a 71-67 winner over Loyola Marymount in the first round, on Saturday at 2:20 p.m. in the second semifinal. No. 2-seed Santa Clara and No. 3-seed San Diego will face off in the noon semifinal. Santa Clara beat San Francisco 89-84, and San Diego beat Portland 61-57 on a particularly hotly contested first day of play on Thursday in the Jenny Craig Pavilion in San Diego. For the game story, go to www.gozags.com. All Gonzaga men’s and women’s WCC tournament games are broadcast live on KGA radio 1510-AM in the Inland Northwest.
By Dale Goodwin
(SAN DIEGO) – Many of the men’s teams in the West Coast Conference envy the draw of the Gonzaga women’s basketball team. This season they averaged 1,858 fans per game, more than 1,000 better than any league opponent. And a number of those fans have ventured to San Diego this week.
Part of the appeal might be “local.” All five Zag starters hail from Washington state.
WCC Player of the Year Heather Bowman (sophomore) and Defender of the Year Jami Bjorklund (junior) are from Spokane. WCC Newcomer of the Year freshman Courtney Vandersloot is from Kent. Senior Michelle Elliott (Pasco) and sophomore Vivian Friesen (Seattle) round out the starting lineup.
“The other thing about this group,” said Coach Kelly Graves, “is that they are involved in a lot of things on campus, they’re out in the community, reading with kids in area schools and playing bingo (with residents) at area retirement homes. Their involvement engages this community, and I think they draw people to see them play.”
Assistant Coach Lisa Mispley Fortier was the first to donate her hair to Locks for Love, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making wigs for people with cancer who have lost their hair. Sophomore Amanda Brown followed, as did Elliott.
After every home game the players sign autographs for kids and other fans.
Bjorklund was a speaker this winter at the Inland Northwest Junior Sports Awards luncheon. “I remember my coach always used to say that most people would rather be lying in the casket than delivering the eulogy,” Graves recalled. “It’s not easy to get in front of a large group of people and speak. But Jami did a fabulous job.”
Bjorklund was not only the league’s top defender, but also a member of the WCC All-Academic team.
“I never have to worry about the academic work of any of these players. They’re all solid citizens,” Graves said. “And I believe that if you recruit good people, they’ll find a way to make your program successful. It’s all relative.”
Graves noted that this is a fun group of women to be around, and that may be another reason they draw so well. “We have a dribbling drill we do at the start of practice. As they’re completing it, they’ll whisper around and decide who’s going to be their target for the day. When the drill concludes, they’ll all throw their balls at the person who they’ve targeted . . . often a coach or trainer. This is a joking group.”
This also is a humble group. “I don’t think any of the players who received postseason awards will tell you that it’s important. Sure, each is a nice honor. But for every one of these players, it’s all about team,” Graves said.
And “team” has added up to 23 wins thus far against only seven losses.