U satisfied with recruiting class

by Tim Klobuchar

For Glen Mason, this recruiting season was the equivalent of trying to squeeze the entire “Godfather” trilogy into one evening.
Mason was not hired as the Gophers head football coach until Dec. 14. With the Feb. 5 national signing day looming, he and his newly assembled staff had to recruit quality football players in a very short amount of time. The possibility of ending up with a “Police Academy”-type recruiting class was definitely there.
In truth, the 21 recruits who have signed letters of intent to play for the Gophers represent one of the lowest-ranked classes in the Big Ten. But considering the time he had, Mason is more than happy with his incoming freshmen.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the recruiting class we’ve assembled,” Mason said Wednesday in a news conference at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex. “We weren’t as specific as we will be in the future. We just wanted the best football players we could find.”
The best players he did find are all of Division I caliber, Mason said.
“There’s no guys that we just threw out a scholarship to and offered a chance to come to Minnesota,” he said.
The class is already a success in one sense because eight members are from Minnesota. That’s the most in-state recruits the Gophers have signed since they got 10 in 1990. Mason’s top priority has been to keep Minnesota’s best players in the state.
Mason is impressed with the raw athletic talent many of the recruits possess. As examples, he mentioned defensive back Gus Martin (Miami, Fla.), who won the upper division state 110-meter hurdles last spring, and wide receiver Elvin Jones (Southfield, Mich.), who is the two-time upper division state champion in the high jump.
Broken down by position, the Gophers signed six offensive linemen, four linebackers, four defensive backs, four running backs, and one defensive lineman. That last position might be cause for alarm. The Gophers’ defense finished last in the Big Ten this year against the run, contributing to the team’s sixth straight losing season.
“A down side is we need more defensive linemen,” Mason said. “They’re at a premium anyway, so they’re hard to find. Obviously, that will be a priority in the future.”
Mason said his first Gophers class is infinitely better than his first at Kansas, the school he coached for nine years before coming to Minnesota. When Mason took over that program, it was in worse shape than Minnesota’s. But he gradually built the Jayhawks into a top-10 team.
At Minnesota, Mason is already off to a better start in recruiting. He added that he hopes his success comes a little earlier this time, even if he isn’t sure how much of an impact the recruits will have as freshmen.
“What they’ve done is important,” Mason said of his new players. “But what’s more important is what they’re going to do.”
Volleyball signings
The Gophers volleyball team announced Wednesday it added five recruits and one transfer, with two more recruits likely to sign in the next week.
Outside hitter Lisa Aschenbrenner (Algonquin, Ill.), middle blocker Heather Baxter (Aurora, Ill.), outside hitter Nicole Branagh (Orinda, Calif.) and middle blocker Erica Glaser (Omaha, Neb.) all have signed letters of intent with the Gophers. Middle blocker Joy Nicholson of River Falls, Wis., will play as a walk-on next year.
“It’s an extremely athletic group,” said Gophers coach Mike Hebert, who was also recruiting his first class at Minnesota. “By 1998, I think it’s going to be a group to be reckoned with.”
Also, the women’s athletics department announced that Linda Shudlick has transferred from UCLA to Minnesota. Shudlick, an Apple Valley native, is the fourth member of the family to compete in Gophers women’s sports. Older sisters Carol Ann and Nancy played basketball at Minnesota, and her younger sister Susan was a freshman setter for the Gophers volleyball team this season.
Hebert said UCLA has released Shudlick to play in the fall, and she has two years of eligibility remaining.
Soccer signings
Gophers soccer coach Sue Montagne announced two signings: forward Laurie Seidl of St. Charles, Ill., and goalkeeper Julie Eibensteiner of St. Paul, Minn. Both were all-state performers last season.
“Our program is excited,” Montagne said. “We expect both players to vie for starting positions next year.”
LaFleur set to return
The Gophers hockey team announced Wednesday that Brian LaFleur, a senior defenseman, will play this weekend against Northern Michigan after missing the last six weeks with a shoulder separation.
LaFleur was injured in a game against Boston College in late December — or, in his words, “On December 27, at about 7:15 p.m.” Since then, the Bloomington native has been rehabilitating his shoulder and counting the days until his return.
“I watched the first game against North Dakota on TV last weekend, and it was really frustrating,” LaFleur said. “When you’re injured, you feel less like a part of a team, especially during road games.”
At the time of his injury, LaFleur led all Gophers defensemen in points. Despite missing 12 games, he is still third in scoring among defensemen with 15 points.
“I’m just pumped to get back in, especially in front of the home crowd,” he said.
— Michael Rand