SURREY — You can’t pay a player a higher compliment than to immediately realize their most unique and defining strengths, then coin a phrase that so perfectly encapsulates it all.
To that end, it didn’t take Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier too long to realize last season that the best way to describe her new Canadian guard Louise Forsyth was to call her ‘…a shooter with stamina.’
And in this instance, those three simple words go a long ways when it comes to painting the portrait of a relentlessly driven student-athlete, and one who on Thursday (12 p.m.) gets the chance to play at home for the first time since the B.C. high school championships in 2017, when Spokane’s Bulldogs face the NCAA Div. 1 defending national champion Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the opening game of the eight-team Vancouver Showcase women’s invitational under the sails at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
In fact when you ask Fortier just how it was that she came to coin the former Langley-Brookswood star the way she did, she echoes the many B.C. coaches who watched Forsyth grow from a willowy eighth-grade prodigy into a powerful high school senior who averaged 31 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in 2016-17.
“The thing I like best about Louise is that she practices at game speed,” begins Fortier of Forsyth, who played in five straight Final Fours, four provincial Tripe A finals, and won three championships with the Bobcats. “A lot of players will shoot around, or get into the gym to do their positional work at one pace, and then when they get into games, it is naturally sped up. Then you can’t make the passes, the correct reads, or the shots because you’re now going so much faster.
“That’s not something Louise struggles with at all,” adds Fortier, “because she practices at full speed all the time. She is as conditioned as any athlete we’ve ever had. And she just shoots the heck out of the basketball.”
PAINFUL EARLY STEPS
Over some of the earliest days of her Gonzaga career last season, Louise Forsyth made her transition around campus while gliding on foot-powered scooter. To be clear, this was because of a broken foot, and certainly not the smooth kind of transition she had hoped for.
“I had trained all summer and just got on to campus, and in the first two weeks, I got a stress fracture in my foot,” Forsyth says. “It was two months in a boot, and then after that I had some compensation issues. It took a lot of work to get back to moving properly, but I would say that over this past offseason, I got back to being 100 per cent healthy.”
It’s been her coming age in a new collegiate chapter, the most recent comparable being her first few years in the Brookswood program where she learned and played alongside older, future Div. 1 players like Tayla Jackson and Aislinn Konig.
Having her learning process stunted during the injury, and not being able to train at anywhere near the levels she had grown accustomed to were both tough.
“It was frustrating for her because you get there, and then you have to watch while all of the others players are getting their chance to grow,” admits former Brookswood head coach Neil Brown, who extended his lengthy and legendary coaching career to include Forsyth’s 2016-17 senior campaign.
“Then, when you get on the floor, now you’re trying to play catch-up,” Brown added. “There was a lot of texting back-and-forth that went on.”
Forsyth ended up logging just 39 minutes in parts of 13 games last season, and thus the 2018-19 season is more akin to her taking her first real shot at establishing a foothold in a rotation with includes seniors Zykera Rice, Laura Stockton and Chandler Smith.
“I listen to my teammates and I work as hard as I can,” says Forsyth, who over the team’s 4-0 non-conference start, is averaging two points and just under a rebound in six minutes per contest.
“I definitely think it will come with time and patience,” she continues of building the base of experience which will allow her to contribute on a larger scale. “Maybe not as much in the moment, but through just focusing each and every day to getting better and better.”
It’s just the same way Forsyth carved the upward steps of her high school career, which she began with the full Brookswood senior varsity as an eighth grader.
A DOCTORATE IN PERSEVERANCE
Former Canadian national women’s senior team head coach Allison McNeill knows what the gold standard is for dedication to the game.
And back here in B.C., she’s adamant that Forsyth’s name be a part of any list you happen to compile in that regard.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a player work any harder,” begins McNeill, also the former associate coach with the Oregon Ducks and former head coach of the Simon Fraser Clan., “and not only in the gym, but searching for better opportunities to train, playing against guys, working with a trainer. She has maximized every possible angle to be her best and that is something that demand’s a person’s respect.”
So while the Vancouver Showcase crowd will see a sophomore Forsyth still working to define her collegiate identity with just 17 games and 63 total minutes under her belt, the big picture reality seems more to be about a player who has done everything in her power to be ready whenever a call for extended duty comes.
“We just graduated Emma Stach from Germany last year,” begins Fortier of another high-energy guard who has returned to her native country to begin a pro career. “And I wish I could have had (Forsyth and Stach) for their whole four years together because they are cut from the same cloth. They have the same mental toughness to push through being tired. Ultimately, that is what will help (Forsyth) over the next three years develop into a really good player. She already has the ability to understand how you have to work in order for everything else to translate over to games.”
Of course, as hard as Forsyth works on the court, she works every bit as hard in the classroom, where she has a goal of entering medical school.
Ask her about her summer, and inbetween getting herself bigger, faster and stronger for the current season, she also did the hard grind academically, all with the goal of making sure she would be at her best to perform when the Bulldogs’ conference season rolled around.
“I am in biology with a minor in environmental studies,” Forsyth says. “Over the summer, I took my Organic Chemistry 1 class in six weeks. This is going to be one of the hardest semesters of my entire degree because next semester there will be a lot of travel, so I didn’t want to miss a lot of labs.”
Tell Brown about that and he comes back with more in-the-details moments and memories of the same.
“I swear to God, I used to sit down with her and tell her to take days off, tell her that she needed to rest,” begins Brown. “Then I would be driving around and there she would be running down the road. She’d see me and then tell me ‘It’s just a 5-K.’
“I just don’t have anything else to compare her to,” he adds. “A lot of people don’t realize how tough it is to play down in the U.S. You have really good athletes up here, but down there, it’s just a whole other layer and most people don’t get that.”
Forsyth’s high school chapter couldn’t have been any more decorated.
And now, she is just beginning the process of realizing her full potential at the next level.
“She has been a great role model,” adds McNeill, who in her current posting as head coach of the Semiahmoo senior varsity girls, coaches Forsyth’s younger sister Izzy. “Most great players are self-made. We can facilitate their experience, but they need to do the little extra things themselves. And in that way, Louise is an inspiration to a lot of kids in B.C.”
What about the little kid in her? The wide-eyed eighth-grader?
Thankfully, Brown confirms, that hasn’t fully left her.
“She has been texting me, telling me how excited she is to play Notre Dame,” Brown says.
And when Forsyth herself is reminded about all of the young, aspiring players who will get out to see her play with the Bulldogs over the three-day run of the Vancouver Showcase’s women’s tournament, she can’t help but be thankful to everyone who played hand in helping her embark on her Gonzaga basketball adventure.
“All of this means a lot to me,” she says of returning home to her own hoops community. “High school taught me about working hard every day with great players like Ace and Tayla. And Mr. Brown, he was the coach who was on me every day, and he prepared me as much as he could for the NCAA level and the work ethic that I was going to need.”
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