Making something happen

Australian Stirton wrapping up Cardinals career before moving on to Gonzaga

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When Georgia Stirton stepped off the airplane two years ago after traveling from her native Melbourne, Australia, she had no idea where she was going.

Or what to expect.

But wherever she went, she was going to make something happen.

Stirton, a 5-foot-8 point guard, earned Scenic West Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player honors in her freshman season, helping guide the Cardinal to an appearance in the NJCAA tournament.

Getting here was the tough part.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd even heard of the state (of Idaho) before," Stirton said. "I had no idea where I was coming and what to expect. I kind of signed here, got on a plane and it was just like 'we'll see where I end up.'"

She studied at Wesley College in Australia, but there were no school teams - instead, it was a more academy and club-based program.

"I was playing in kind of a youth league with older and bigger girls," Stirton said. "But I was young to be in that league. They're not as fast and individually skilled as here and in this conference, but the high school teams were pretty much non-existent."

Thus far, Stirton added the biggest adjustment from Australia has been fending for herself.

"I've had to get used to being on my own and being independent," Stirton said. "And cooking my own meals. I'm in the gym a fair bit, but also have a great host family - John and Erica Renoza - so I'm over there a fair bit. They've got TV and cook good meals and live just a block up from me - and they're just great to me."

Stirton will move from the SWAC to the West Coast Conference after signing a letter of intent with Gonzaga in November.

"That's just a great program," Stirton said. "I've always said that if they offered, I'd sign there in a second. It's just a great program and they've had great success. I love the coaches and I think it's going to be a huge challenge, but it's something that I'm really willing and nervous for."

"She's a great player," Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. "I've seen her for a couple of years, and I like that she's a pass-first point guard.

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STIRTON

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We've got a lot of kids around her that can score and she can create shots for others."

NIC coach Chris Carlson feels that even though Stirton is considered a past-first guard, she can score as well.

"She can take it to the rim and finish with beautiful touch," Carlson said. "She can create space and against big kids that's just uncanny. You look at her shooting percentage from the 3-point line (45 percent), and she's got a great shot. We'd love to see her score some more, and she's practicing putting the ball on the rim. She's totally capable of scoring, and we'd like her to take a lot more shots, but she's really selective, but we've been encouraging her."

The love affair between Stirton and Gonzaga began last year when she went to the McCarthey Athletic Center for a game.

"I went over to watch them play a game, long before they started to recruit me," Stirton said. "Honestly, in my head, I could never imagine going to a school like that. I couldn't believe the atmosphere and all the fans at a girls game. I'd never seen anything like that, and when they started showing interest, I was shocked and blown away."

Graves watched the Cardinals' 57-33 win against Salt Lake in the Region 18 tournament in Coeur d'Alene last March. In that game, Stirton had 11 points, five assists and two steals.

"I like that's she's a vocal leader on the court," Graves said. "She'll come in as a junior and she's got some experience. It's nice to have a mentor to look up to for those younger kids."

When she made her official visit to Gonzaga in October, she was sold.

"The players were really welcoming when I went on my visit," Stirton said. "The coaches really know what they're doing. I never really expected anything like this when I got here. When I came to America, it was just to see what happens. I had no ambitions of playing at the Division I level right away, and just seeing what happened from NIC."

Remaining close to her first home in America in Coeur d'Alene was also a big selling point.

"I'm really happy about that," Stirton said. "I've got friends that are really close and I know people here, so that's really good. And I can still travel here and see my friends."

Her mom came to watch last year's regional tournament. Her dad hasn't seen her play yet in person at NIC.

"I've been telling them they need to come and see me play when I'm at Gonzaga," Stirton said. "I don't think they'll understand the full extent of it until they see it because we don't have college sports back home. I'd love to have them come and see just one game just to see how big of an atmosphere it really is."

Forward Renae Mokrzycki, also a sophomore from Australia and a teammate at NIC, signed with Idaho in November.

"We were in different leagues, so I hadn't heard much of her," Stirton said of Mokrzycki. "When coach said he was recruiting her, I looked her up and her whereabouts she was playing and knew exactly what league she was playing in."

NIC (21-8, 7-7 SWAC) wraps up the regular season on Saturday when they host Southern Idaho at 3 p.m.

"It has been a big change this year with all the freshman coming in this year," Stirton said. "It's been a big change, but this year has been a lot more about learning and adjusting. We've had an up-and-down season, but we continue to work hard and good things will come."

And as far as the pass-first point guard, Stirton had a season-high 18 points in Saturday's 62-59 overtime win against Snow College.

"Everyone tells me I need to shoot it a few more times," said Stirton, who averages around 12 points and four assists per game. "But I love - and it's my favorite thing about playing basketball - to make a good pass. People get adrenaline rushes off hitting a 3-pointer, but I get one from making a good pass. I love it. It's the best. But I do need to look for my shot more because teams are starting to lay off me, so I've got to look for my shot more too."

"Georgia does some of the hardest things, the hardest skills that a player can do, the best I've ever seen," Carlson said. "She likes to do those things, like her passing and taking players off the bounce and create some space and angles and make some tough shots. She's got an uncanny knack for the game - and most players don't get to that point. She does those things so well, that we've worked with her to do things without the ball. But that's the amazing thing is those skills that most guards can't do - she does well."

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