Story by athletic commuications student assistant Ellen Larson
On Monday, the University of Minnesota women's basketball team held its first practice of the season in Williams Arena. In their first official gathering of the year, the Gophers minced no words about this season's goals.
"We want to make the NCAA Tournament," senior guard Carlie Wagner said. "We want a Big Ten Championship."
The Gophers are coming off a tough season last year in which they faced one of the most challenging schedules in the nation with eight newcomers on the team. This year is going to be different.
"We've got a great schedule this year," Wagner said. "The fact that we have a lot more upperclassmen this year, and everyone has a year of experience under their belt is going to really help us a lot. They know it's coming now. They know what the Big Ten is like."
Head coach Marlene Stollings, in her fourth year at Minnesota, echoed her thoughts and laid out the differences in this year's team.
"We had a really tough schedule and a lot of youth last year," Stollings said. "I think what we're going to see is a more mature team this year. I think that's the biggest adjustment. They've handled themselves with a lot more maturity, and they're very focused. Those are the things I see as a difference going into this year."
With this newfound maturity has come a new mindset. Wagner highlighted the change in team culture as the biggest change from last season.
"Our culture has definitely taken a 180," Wagner said. "There's no complaining this year, and there's no wondering why we're doing something. Everyone is on board with accomplishing our goals. We've all bought in this year, and our chemistry is great on and off the court. Things are looking good."
Center Jessie Edwards, another returning senior, found that the difference this year was partly in comfort level.
"Everybody is a lot more comfortable playing with each other now," Edwards said. "Everybody has a lot more confidence, and now that we know each other's playing styles and what we like to do, we're a lot more jelled together."
Edwards also expanded on one of the team's focuses this year--defense.
"We're putting in a lot of work with Coach Marty (McGillan), our defensive coach," Edwards said. "We're just going back to basics, focusing on our footwork, and I think that's really going to show during the season."
But defense isn't going to be the only focus of the team. This year, the teams wants to have a more diverse skill set, reflective of each player's strengths, and less of a defined identity.
"In previous seasons, we've been guard-centered and shooting outside," Edwards said. "But this year we're focused on having a really diverse offense, from posting up inside, regular 3-point shooting, and just driving to the basket. We're going for whatever our offense opens up for us."
The Gophers' focus on skill, maturity and team culture will hopefully take them far this season. Incoming freshman Destiny Pitts pointed to it as a good sign for the year to come.
"The team's camaraderie is coming together for the season," Pitts said. "I like that."
The Golden Gophers will open their season on Nov. 11 at Williams Arena vs. Lehigh.
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