Elle Tinkle is taking it easy this year. Really. Long hours on the Gonzaga basketball court are often followed by longer ones at Sacred Heart Medical Center. She’s also taking 13 credits of upper-division classes. That’s the easy part, insists Tinkle, who’s enjoying the chance to “stretch” her senior year with a lighter load. “I’ll take that for sure,” she said with a laugh. If that doesn’t make sense, then you don’t know Elle Tinkle, a 6-foot-2 guard whose grace on the basketball court belies a get-’er-done grittiness in every phase of her life.

Even when that life is turned upside down.

A year ago, Tinkle had everything planned. She was a preseason all-West Coast Conference selection and a major reason the Bulldogs were picked to win another West Coast Conference title and get back to the NCAA Tournament.

After that, she would consider going pro or becoming a nurse.

The plan fell apart quickly. A hard fall in the first game of the season turned out to be a knee injury that grew steadily worse.

Tinkle still managed to lead GU in scoring, with 10.5 points a game. “I played as long as I could, but I saw the handwriting on the wall,” she said. “With each game it was harder and harder to bounce back and give 100 percent.”

Meanwhile, GU also lost post Emma Wolfram for the season. The Bulldogs soldiered on, but with depleted ranks. They finished 19-14 and fifth in the WCC.

Tinkle was there for every game, offering advice and encouragement, all the way to a bittersweet Senior Night. That’s when she said goodbye to the friends and teammates she’d known for four years: Shelby Cheslek, Shaniqua Nilles and Chelsea Waters.

“That was special, that was a group of seniors I’d been with for four years,” Tinkle said. A few weeks later, the hardship waiver was approved by the NCAA, and Tinkle had some certainty back in her life.

“I’m just glad that I get another shot, but there’s definitely going to be some déjà vu this year,” Tinkle said.

Call it her super senior year. So far it’s gone quite well, thank you.

Fall semester began with that “stretch” 13-credit class load. Tinkle felt the difference from those 17-credit slogs of the past.

“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” Tinkle said. “And honestly, sometimes I feel that the injury was a blessing with the academics part. The recovery, not being able to play – it allowed me to be a lot more flexible with my academic schedule, which is pretty chaotic.”

Last spring, after the season ended, Tinkle spent every weekend at Sacred Heart, working eight- and 12-hour shifts. “I try to imagine how I would have done that this year” with a bigger class load, she said.

Tinkle would have managed. She was a pioneer of sorts, the first student-athlete to tackle the basketball-nursing combo.

“Sometimes, I have to ask myself why I have this hectic, crazy, sometimes-unimaginable schedule, but it’s because I love the program, and my teammates,” said Tinkle, who still manages to carry a 3.46 grade-point average.

“I was hardheaded. I didn’t see the purpose in choosing a major that was just going to go with my basketball schedule,” Tinkle said.

Compromises were made on both sides with class and basketball commitments. “The coaching staff and the nursing faculty have been unbelievable,” Tinkle said.

After she was cleared to return, Tinkle realized she’d been away from the court for so long. “It took some time to get those lungs back,” she said.

Her first live action came on Oct. 15 in a public scrimmage on Fan Fest, where she looked 100 percent and ready to do whatever it takes.

She and coach Lisa Fortier spent the offseason discussing Tinkle’s role in what looks like a fast-paced offense.

“I never doubt she’s going to give us everything she has,” Fortier said. “She’s always had that energy and defensive rebounding, but now she can do everything.”

On and off the court.