Gophers hope for smooth start to life after Lindsay

David McCoy

Backtrack to the 2000-01 Minnesota’s women’s basketball season – Lindsay Whalen’s freshman year.

The hapless Gophers finished 8-20 overall and were 10th in the Big Ten with a 1-15 conference record.

Add the fact that the team was barely drawing 1,000 fans a game to the Sports Pavilion, and Minnesota was easily the laughingstock of the Big Ten.

But things would soon change.

Whalen – now Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer – collected All-American honors each of her next three seasons.

She helped boost attendance to unforeseen levels, which forced the athletics department to move the team’s games to Williams Arena.

And she orchestrated the Gophers’ first Final Four appearance last year before taking the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals this fall.

But as Gophers fans look ahead to head coach Pam Borton’s third season and Year 1 A.W. (After Whalen), expectations haven’t dipped.

Although the departure of arguably the best female athlete in the history of Minnesota athletics is an obvious blow, the Gophers still have a lot going for them.

Kelly Roysland started when Whalen broke two bones in her right hand last February, but junior April Calhoun, a transfer from Iowa, will start this year at shooting guard.

Borton said the starter could change from game to game.

Calhoun, however, will not have to shoulder the scoring load, as Whalen did.

All-American Janel McCarville is returning for her senior year, and as a leading national player of the year candidate, McCarville will be the center of the Gophers’ offensive attack.

But Minnesota will have to contend without the 6-foot-2-inch center for now. She broke the third metacarpal bone in her left hand while trying to brace herself for a fall during a loose-ball drill Thursday at practice.

“It’s kind of lucky, kind of not lucky,” McCarville said. “You wouldn’t wish it would happen at all, but the team will get stronger through it.”

McCarville is expected to miss four weeks at most with the injury and said she hopes to return in time for the team’s home opener Nov. 19 against Arkansas State.

Sophomore Liz Podominick, who had been the favorite to start at power forward, will fill in at center for McCarville while she recovers, and sophomore Jamie Broback will play power forward.

Amid the shuffling at the other three positions, the Gophers have no worries at the small forward and point guard positions, with starters Shannon Bolden and Shannon Schonrock returning for their junior seasons.

Both will serve as team captains, along with McCarville.

Bolden was dominant as the team’s defensive stopper during last season’s NCAA Tournament, holding Duke’s Alana Beard – the national player of the year – to just 10 points in the Mideast Region final.

Schonrock started all 34 games at point guard for Minnesota last year, falling just one three-pointer short of tying the team’s single-season record.

Minnesota’s first exhibition game is at 7 p.m. today. The Gophers play host to a Wisconsin AAU team featuring former college and WNBA players.

“It will be good to play a team with a little more experience than us,” Borton said.

And while the Gophers must be tired of proving their legitimacy after last year’s Final Four run, they now must silence the critics who say the team is nothing without Whalen.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there that think Lindsay Whalen just carried this team and whatever, and we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without her,” Calhoun said. “I think that’s wrong. We never once doubted ourselves, and the people on our team are ready to prove to the nation that’s false.”