McCarville leaves as Gophers’ first full-time winner

The Whalen question became the Janel McCarville question after Saturday’s loss.

by David McCoy

TEMPE, Ariz. – It was only last year when Minnesota’s women’s basketball team said goodbye to All-American Lindsay Whalen at the end of a postseason run.

No sooner had Whalen untied her shoes for the last time than the questions arose about how the team would do the next year without her. At that moment, all eyes turned to the team’s other All-American – Janel McCarville.

And after a tough 64-57 loss to Baylor in the Sweet 16 on Saturday, the moment has come when a similar question must be asked of McCarville.

“Obviously, that’s a loss, and that’s heartbreaking and stuff,” McCarville said. “But the things that bother me the most is not being able to play with the people who I’ve played with for the last three years.”

With their season at a close, the Gophers can look back at what McCarville has meant to the program, as well as look to what the future will be like without her.

The year before McCarville came to Minnesota, the Gophers won only one Big Ten game and finished 8-20 overall.

When she arrived, she was quickly put into the starting lineup, garnering Big Ten freshman of the year honors and resurrecting the Gophers – along with Whalen, of course – to a 22-8 record and an NCAA berth.

And to McCarville, that’s what the last four years have been all about.

“They’ve kind of meant success, building,” McCarville said. “Everybody on this team, in this program, knows that when I first got here my freshman year, the program was pretty much in shambles. And then in (2001-02), we really put it together and built it into success.”

Though many other people have played roles in Minnesota’s turnaround from one of the NCAA’s worst to one of its best, none have coincided with the team’s four years of prominence the way McCarville has.

While Whalen was part of that 8-20 team and coach Pam Borton has only been around for the last three after replacing Brenda Oldfield (now Frese), McCarville has become the player with the most wins in the program’s history: 95.

Dubbed the “Queen of the Screen” by one fan’s poster at the Baylor game, several of McCarville’s picks this year have not only labeled her as one of the country’s most physical players but left those on the receiving end wondering where bus No. 4 was headed next.

And now that McCarville’s time with the Gophers is up, that’s likely to open up a whirlwind of questions about where they are headed next.

But McCarville said she doesn’t think they will miss a beat.

“I think I’ve gone out three or four times this year (with foul trouble), and they’ve done exceptional jobs not only sustaining teams’ runs but making runs of their own while I’m on the bench,” McCarville said. “And that just says numbers for where they’ll be next year.”

With McCarville gone, the Gophers will surely look toward their veteran backcourt next year – all three starters are returning as seniors – as well as more firepower inside from forward Jamie Broback, whose breakthrough season was in large part because of the tutelage of McCarville.

“Obviously, she’s just a player who is a great role model on the court,” Broback said. “She helps players develop their own game as well as hers. And, obviously, she’ll be missed.”