Gophers luring transfers back in-state

The team has had three Minnesota natives transfer in the past two years.

Allina Starr waits for a free throw to be shot at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 20, where the Gophers defeated the Wildcats 95-92.

Sam Harper, Daily File Photo

Allina Starr waits for a free throw to be shot at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 20, where the Gophers defeated the Wildcats 95-92.

Kaitlin Merkel

Minnesota women’s basketball head coach Marlene Stollings delivers a clear message to prospective players: It’s never too late to go home.
 
 
In Stollings’ two years at the helm, the team has brought in three transfers who were in-state recruits in high school who decided to go elsewhere for college.
 
 
Stollings said the team’s success last season, in which she led the Gophers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009, has helped put the program back on some players’ radars.
 
 
“I think with our arrival, it’s gotten a lot of player’s attention who had previously left. … They see our style. They see our culture that we have and the program that we’re building,” Stollings said. “Why wouldn’t you want to come back and play in that environment?”
 
 
The coach’s pitch seems to be working as the Gophers try to take advantage of a fertile recruiting base. Eight Minnesota girls’ high school basketball players signed to play for Division I programs in 2015, according to ESPN.com, and 13 signed with Division I schools for 2016.
 
 
The first transfer under Stollings, sophomore guard Allina Starr, was added to the Gophers roster in January 2015 after leaving Auburn University.
 
 
Starr, a Minneapolis native, has since started all 10 Big Ten games this season for Minnesota after becoming eligible to play at the end of the 2015 fall semester. She’s averaging 4.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
 
 
The two newest transfers, sophomore guard Kenisha Bell and sophomore center Bryanna Fernstrom, are still awaiting their debuts. Bell and Fernstrom both practice with the team but are currently sitting out for one year due to NCAA transfer rules.
 
 
Bell, also a Minneapolis native, was added to the team in April after transferring from Marquette University. She’ll be eligible to play for the Gophers at the beginning of next season.
 
 
“When I went down to Marquette, I didn’t really like it,” Bell said. “[But] when I left, I got a call saying, ‘[Minnesota] still wants you,’ so I was happy. … It was just a good feeling, the atmosphere here.”
 
 
Bell averaged 14.5 points per game at Marquette, a school record for a freshman. Stollings said Bell’s speed and scoring ability fit the Gophers up-tempo style of play, which runs through the team’s guards.
 
 
“[Bell] is going to give us a true combo guard who is as fast as anybody in the Big Ten,” Stollings said.
 
 
Fernstrom, a Center City, Minn., native, transferred to Minnesota in January from Iowa State University. She started 12 of 15 games for the Cyclones her sophomore year before switching schools and averaged 9.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. She’ll be eligible to play after next season’s fall semester.
 
 
“I came back to Minnesota because I felt like the program had really shifted in a positive direction,” Fernstrom said. “It’s still heading that way. The new coaches are great, and they’re really turning the program around.”
 
 
Stollings said the 6-foot-5-inch center will give Minnesota size and physicality in its frontcourt, something the team has consistently lacked this season.
 
 
The Gophers now have eight in-state players on their roster, with the three transfers.
 
 
Fernstrom said having so many Minnesota players makes the team’s chemistry stronger, especially because she played with or against many of her current teammates growing up.
 
 
“I played with [Bell] in seventh grade, so we were way younger. And then [sophomore guard Carlie Wagner], I played my last year of AAU with,” Fernstrom said. “It’s nice knowing people coming in. There’s a couple [more] Minnesota girls that I’ve been playing against my whole AAU career.”
 
 
While the Gophers still have to wait until next season to see two of their three transfers on the court, Stollings said she has high expectations.
 
 
“They’re both phenomenal players … and they’re going to raise and elevate our play immediately when they’re eligible,” she said.