They’ve already raised their game. Now Katie Campbell and Jessie Loera are raising their voices.
That’s harder than it sounds: In the interview room, both speak barely above a whisper.
Yet Campbell and Loera know that senior leadership will play a big part in lifting a Gonzaga team that’s both loaded with college experience and utterly lacking in it.
“It’s an interesting mix,” Coach Lisa Fortier said early in fall practice.
The Zags are coming off a 29-5 season with five upperclassmen who figure to comprise the starting five: Loera, Campbell and juniors Jill Townsend and the Wirth twins, Jenn and LeeAnne. All averaged 20 minutes or more last year.
Of the remainder, only backup forward Melody Kempton and reserve guard Louise Forsyth saw appreciable playing time.
The others are talented but green, and could use a little guidance from the two seniors.
Speaking of which, Campbell noted that she’s “talking more in general practice, which is the last step in working on my leadership.”
“I’m still finding my voice and getting better at directive talk,” said Campbell, one of the top 3-point shooters in the nation last year.
But can she shoot daggers at an out-of-line teammate as well as she shoots from outside? Campbell thinks so.
“I’m energetic and good at getting people going,” Campbell said.
However, there’s nothing like draining a couple of big 3-pointers to lift a team. Campbell’s big moment came last year against No. 7 Stanford, when she hit five out of six to give the Zags their biggest win of the season.
When Campbell gets hot, everyone agrees, it boosts everyone’s confidence.
In another example of leadership by example, Campbell hopes to diversify her game. “I’m trying to open up that midrange part of my game, with more pull-up jumpers.”
For Loera, leadership has usually meant running the offense at the point. For three years she backed up Laura Stockton, who along with Zykera Rice provided the emotional spark last season.
“I know she was competitive, and she was one of the players I’ve always looked to, showing me the ropes and how things worked,” Loera said.
Now it’s Loera’s turn. She’s already getting some leadership lessons by working as a student teacher at Bemiss Elementary School in Spokane.
“You have to be a leader in the classroom,” Loera said.
Mostly, Loera has led by example. A fan favorite since her freshman year because of her fast motor, her role has grown steadily. In each of the last two seasons, she took over the starting role when Stockton was injured.
Almost every phase of her game improved last year, including a 33% effort from 3-point range and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 132 to 64, or better than 2:1.
Her 43 steals were third best on the team behind Stockton and Chandler Smith.
On the court this fall, Loera has been dispensing advice to her probable successors, Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong.
“They’ve asked a lot of questions, but they’re doing so well already,” Loera said.
It also didn’t hurt that the entire squad got a leg up on team bonding during a 10-day summer trip to Spain and Italy.
Along with the extra practices, the trip helped new players get a head start toward finding their comfort zone.
And if the need arises, Townsend has the voice to take them out of that comfort zone.
She’s more comfortable calling people out,” Fortier said.