When Brenda Oldfield (now Frese) departed from the University’s women’s basketball program for Maryland last April, she took some parting shots at the state of Minnesota.
“She said that there were three things (that caused her departure),” then-women’s athletics director Chris Voelz said. “One was weather and one was facilities and one was a talent base that she thought could not win a national championship.”
The fact that Oldfield made such comments after churning out one of the most impressive recruiting classes in Minnesota history made her words even more striking. Her only recruiting class begins its first regular season this Saturday at 2:00 p.m. against IUPU-Fort Wayne in the first round of the Subway Basketball Classic at Williams Arena.
Oldfield landed the first Minnesota Miss Basketball since 1991 in Shannon Bolden of Marshall.
Shannon Schonrock of Winnebago was a top 50 national recruit after leading the state of Minnesota in scoring in both her junior and senior years.
Christina Collison of Eden Prairie averaged a double-double each of her final two seasons in high school.
The three of them signed with Minnesota even before last winter’s surprising season began. With a 10-game Big Ten turnaround, an NCAA tournament appearance and all five starters returning, the Gophers looked to be walking into an ideal situation.
Then Oldfield decided to move to greener talent pastures.
“At first, I just couldn’t believe it,” Schonrock said. “She was only here for like nine months.
“Anybody would be (disappointed). The coach is a big reason you come to play. When the coach that recruited you isn’t going to be your coach, it worries you.”
Nevertheless, all three of them maintain they never once considered playing elsewhere, despite the chaotic situation in the women’s basketball program. Reassurance that the team was still focused on being better for it came in the form of phone calls.
“I got calls from both Lindsays (captains Whalen and Lieser),” Bolden said. “People were asking a lot of questions, and I didn’t know what to think. Their calls really helped because I knew everything was going to be OK regardless of who the coach was going to be.”
When Voelz hired Pam Borton from Boston College to take the helm, her job became to elevate a team already on the upswing using a talent base Oldfield called incapable of national prowess.
Borton was given the gift of a promising recruiting class this season and has put together possibly a more impressive all-Minnesota class for next year.
“There definitely is enough talent in Minnesota,” Borton said. “Minnesota people and athletes are all about work ethic. The high school coaches here do a great job. The work ethic here is completely different than on the east coast.”
Bolden, Schonrock and Collison add depth to a team consisting of basically the same players that brought it to the forefront of the Big Ten last year.
The three have already formed some chemistry of their own, playing on the same North Tartan AAU team this past summer. Bolden and Schonrock have actually been teammates for the past three summers.
Working their way into the mix of the Gophers has proven to be a smooth process, given the family-like community of all involved. Veterans of the team and coaches can’t help but rave about Bolden’s defense, Schonrock’s leadership and Collison’s attitude.
“I just think the players I’m playing with are amazing people,” Collison said. “They know so much, and I’m learning a lot just from watching them play every day.
“When I get to go in and they see how happy I am, they get a kick out of it.”