Remember back when the Gopher women's basketball program was a national embarrassment? High school players were fleeing the state to other D-I schools while the Gophers merely hoped to eke out a few Big Ten victories each season.
Times have changed, and this year the Gophers are poised for what could be the most successful campaign in school history. Senior All-America candidate Lindsay Whalen will lead a charge to the team's first Big Ten title in what should be an exciting winter of basketball in the Barn.
This week the NCAA announced that, assuming the Gophers qualify for the NCAA Tournament, they will host a sub-regional -- i.e., the first two rounds of tournament play -- in March. And the Star Tribune reported that perennial national power Tennessee is likely to pay a visit to Williams Arena in January to take on coach Pam Borton's squad.
This year, for the first time in three seasons the Gophers will have the luxury of playing for the same coach as the year before. The chaos of Cheryl Littlejohn's tumultuous tenure gave way to the one-year giddiness that was Brenda Oldfield. Finally, Borton took over the reins last year and turned a run-and-gun outfit into a defensive-minded team that shut down Stanford on its home court in the first round of the NCAA tourney.
In a nutshell, that means seniors like Whalen and Kadidja Andersson won't have to learn a brand new system for the first time in their Gopher careers.
The biggest hole to fill will be the loss of feisty guard Corrin Von Wald and reserves Kim Prince and Lindsay Lieser. But the addition of a strong freshman class that includes national top-10 recruit Liz Podominick of Lakeville, post Jamie Broback of Eastview and guard Kelly Roysland from Fosston will help immediately. So will the continued maturation of sophomore Shannon Shoenrock, who took over the point guard duties at midseason last year.
Podominick is expected to push junior Janel McCarville, who had a spotty sophomore campaign after earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2002. If McCarville comes into camp in playing condition, the Gophers will have a two-person force in the low post that nobody in the Big Ten can match.
Last year, the Gophers finished 12-4 in the Big Ten, tied for second a game behind Penn State, and were ranked No. 13 in the final Associated Press poll. The Gopher fan base is growing, so much that the team has vacated the Sports Pavilion to allow for bigger crowds at Williams Arena. Keep an eye on GoldenSports.net throughout the year as the buzz grows over the women's basketball team.
Elsewhere in Gopherland, the football team has announced game times for three preseason home games and a pair of road contests.
Saturday night football at the Metrodome will once again be en vogue as the Gophers open the season Aug. 30 at 6 p.m. against Tulsa. The next week, Troy State visits for a 7:10 p.m. kickoff on Sept. 6, and on Sept. 20 the Gophers host Louisiana-Lafayette at 7 p.m.
The only road nonconference game will be on Sept. 13 when the Gophers travel to Ohio University for a noon kickoff. They'll also play an 11 a.m. game at Illinois on Oct. 25.
Finally, senior Ben Utecht of Hastings, Minn., was named to the watch list for the John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's top collegiate tight end. He's one of 22 players to make the cut. The only other Big Ten candidate is Michigan State junior Eric Knott.
Roundup: A look ahead to women's hoops
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