I honestly never thought I’d leave Montana.

Growing up in Fairfield, it was all I could have asked for and more. Being a huge sports town, everyone was always following one high school team or another, whether it was Football or our Women’s Basketball.

Either way, we couldn’t get enough of it, and we took pride in each sport.

Personally, I didn’t even commit to basketball as my one sport until I arrived at Gonzaga as a freshman. Splitting my time between basketball and volleyball, I just wanted to play as much as possible, and I wasn’t aware kids in other states were told to just pick one.

So when the recruitment process started during my 8th-grade year, I didn’t really view it as a big deal. I guess I was too young to understand it all, but my head coach, Mr. Gordon certainly wasn’t.

From his guidance, he took me to Spokane, Washington to play at a Gonzaga camp. At the camp, I had my first opportunity to see what some out of state programs really looked like, which really opened my eyes, as I had only considered local campuses.

But it didn’t take long until I didn’t even want to consider looking anywhere else.

There was just something about the Gonzaga program and the campus. Obviously, it was nice that it was close enough that my parents could drive to see me play, but the level of play just felt different too.

I could feel the challenge that was presented, and I loved being a part of that.

So instead of waiting around like most recruits, I made my commitment early. I knew I wanted to be a Zag.

 

When I got on campus a few years later, I was extremely excited to be a part of such a prestigious program, but I really didn’t know where I was going to fit in on the roster.

All through high school I had been asked to be a major contributor, but I knew when you come to this level, you have to grow into your role.

That’s why when I was presented the option of either playing limited minutes or redshirting that first year, I understood the right decision. Also, some of the older girls on the team helped me understand that an extra year of education and training could only help my chances of success.

My trade-off: giving up a few minutes to gain an extra year of playing once I was developed.

So although it was difficult, I sat on the sidelines that first year, soaking in as much as I could.

From that point on, most people didn’t know what to expect out of me. I know a lot of people thought my game wouldn’t transition to the next level and others might have thought I should have just stayed home in Montana so I could have played that first year.

But as soon as that next season hit, I couldn’t wait to show all the work I had put in during my year sitting out.

And of course, I had some help.

Because I was young and no one really knew what to expect, most double teams ended up on our Senior post player, leaving me with more opportunity on the court.

I don’t think I could have drawn it up any better.

 

Now, seeing how that first year transitioned, and the success that has come since then, I couldn’t be happier to be where I am.

Sometimes, when you’re making a big decision, one that challenges you to get out of your comfort zone, you need to shoot as high as you can. Even if you fail, if you aim as high as you can, you’ll still end up finding success somewhere along the way.

But you’ll never know the success you can have unless you go for it.

It wasn’t always easy, but what Gonzaga has brought to me is more than I ever imagined. Being able to be challenged in every aspect of my game, and supported by a community that wants me to succeed, I’m happy to say I shot as high as I could and became a Zag.

 

Jill Barta | Contributor