No longer a Cinderella upstart, the Gonzaga men's basketball team has traded its glass slippers for Nikes and has kept running around, and through, those standing in their way.
After a magical run to the Elite Eight in 1999, Mark Few took over the helm the following season and has guided his Bulldogs to their 17th straight appearance in "the Big Dance," the NCAA Tournament.
Maintaining that initial burst of success, and turning into a way of life on the Spokane, Wash., campus, proved challenging.
"That was just an enormous challenge because we kind of caught lightning in a bottle there the last month of that season, which that tournament is all about," Few says. "We were very fortunate with some of our matchups and some of the situations that arose prior to the matchups, and then we were able to play the first and second round in Seattle. But we always said, 'We're not going to be a one-hit wonder. We can't be satisfied with where we're at.' And I think that's been the mantra up here forever."
By year 4 or 5, by Few's estimation, the national perception of Gonzaga had shifted from the role of underdog to expectations of entering the tournament with a high seed.
"From then on," he says, "we've been the hunted and not the hunter."
When asked about the keys to the Bulldogs' success, Few is quick to point to the Bulldogs themselves. It takes a certain mental toughness to become a Bulldog, he says, and while the team"s recruiting avenues have become much wider since it's developed into a perennial power, those lanes have become busier with traffic from other competing programs.
"We seem to find the right guy who ends up wanting to be at a place like this," he says. "That"s a guy that has as high of expectations as anybody out there but is also willing to put the work in and understands how important player development is. And we always end up finding a high-character individual that"s going to be a great teammate and great outside of basketball."
The wide net that Few casts can even touch players from other sports. He loves multi-sport athletes, he says, for the variety of competitive situations in which they find themselves. which they play.
"Whether it's standing up there with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, tie game, you"re out there by yourself. To getting hit multiple times as a quarterback or as a running back and getting up and making the next play," Few says. "[We're looking for] the toughness it takes to fight through the pain."
Perseverance is something Few not only coaches but has lived. While his name commonly gets mentioned when vacancies arise at other institutions, what is it that's kept him with the program he's been so instrumental in building?
"Winning!" he says emphatically. "We win, and are capable of winning, at the highest level and have shown that with being able to go to the NCAA Tournament 17 straight years. This is a totally unbelievable place. The Gonzaga community, the Spokane community; with how they support our team is unreal."
Which meshes well with the advice he would offer any younger coach, about first seeking satisfaction with one's current situation.
"Be happy with where you"re at," he advises. "Be one of those guys who's happy and content do the best job you possible can with where you're at instead of always trying to look forward to something else."
Lisa Fortier is no rookie. Not anymore. After guiding her Gonzaga Bulldogs to a Sweet 16 as an 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament, she capped a first year as women's head basketball coach that taught her more than she could have imagined.
A degree in human communication has proven a valuable bridge builder for Fortier, as she's learned how to reach different players, whether current Bulldogs or recruits. It's helped her along the way as an assistant as well, as she's drawn from different coaches and styles while absorbing what it would take to put it all together in the head role herself.
"It directly relates to what I do here in dealing with diverse populations and trying to get them to develop those communication skills," Fortier says. "You meet people where they are."
Previously the coordinator of basketball operations at Gonzaga, Fortier touts the school's family atmosphere that drew her back after working as an assistant at Northern Colorado. And that support proved valuable as she transitioned into her new role.
"I remember, before all my coaches were here, bouncing from office to office looking on the computers and seeing what needed to be done, trying to figure out what other duties I didn't know about that needed to get done," she recalls, shaping that into advice for other first-time head coaches. "It's not just coaching games. I had a grad person tell me a couple years ago, 'I just want to coach. There's so much of this other stuff, I just want to get on the floor and coach.' Well, I don't know if there's a job that exists where that's all you get to do. There's a lot more to it. For me it was just being really organized and writing everything down because you forget; there are so many things that come up."