The 2018 Minnesota women’s basketball team began their official practices last week. This year’s team has lost an important player to graduation in Carlie Wagner, the #3 all-time leading scorer in Minnesota women’s basketball history.
Despite this there has been a rise in season ticket sales compared to last year – and the reason why is Minnesota basketball legend Lindsay Whalen. Whalen was hired as the head coach of the women’s basketball team this offseason following the departure of Marlene Stollings.
As a player for the University of Minnesota, Whalen eventually became Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer. She led the team to three consecutive NCAA tournament runs and the 2004 NCAA Women’s Final Four. The average attendance at women’s basketball games rose to nearly 10,000 spectators during her playing career.
In one of her first decisions as a coach, Whalen plans to move the women’s basketball team away from the use of a zone defense in favor of playing man-to-man defense. Senior Kenisha Bell had high praises for the decision.
“I think this is the best thing to do.” said Bell. “Last year we struggled with 2-3 zone and I think we could have beat more teams if we weren’t playing a 2-3 zone defense. In AAU (high-school), all we played was full court man-to-man or half court man-to-man. Being able to get back to that I think it will be more fun. Defense gets everybody hyped.”
It will be tough for the team to fill the void left behind by Carlie Wagner’s departure. However, they remain optimistic and trust that they can do it together.
Junior Gadiva Hubbard has liked what she’s seen out of newcomers Mercedes Staples and Delaynie Byrne so far, as well as the offseason improvement of upperclassmen Jasmine Brunson.
“There’s a lot of people on the team that I feel like can score at any time at their will. We have a couple people on the team that can score in double-digits every game…” said Hubbard. “We just have to have the mentality of playing through everything. Once we get that mentality of being relentless, I feel like there’s nobody that can stop us.”
After practice when talking to media, coach Whalen reflected on what has changed in the 14 years since she played for the Gophers; as well as what remains the same.
“I didn’t have a car when I was here, I had a bike, so I’m driving through every day through the traffic, that’s one difference. I don’t have to bike and walk through the rain and cold… as I was as a student. And I come to this facility every day, we practiced [then] at Williams [Arena], which was great, but we didn’t have this [Athlete’s Village] I’ll tell you” Lindsey Whalen said. “A lot of things are different, but the goal is the same, trying to compete in the Big Ten, get to the [NCAA] tournament and make some noise.”
In late September the NCAA also announced that Minneapolis has been selected to host the Women’s Basketball Final Four at the Target Center in 2022. Minnesota is hosting this year’s Women’s Volleyball National Championship, the 2019 Men’s Basketball Final Four, the 2020 NCAA Wrestling Championship and the 2021 Men’s Gymnastics Championship. Last year the Minneapolis-area held the NCAA Men’s Swimming & Diving National Championship, both the Women’s and Men’s Hockey Frozen Four Championships and NFL festivities ahead of Super Bowl LII.