Borton jumps into role as women’s hoops coach

Ben Goessling

There is no sign of a moving box anywhere.

Pam Borton’s office is spotless. After just one week on the job as Minnesota’s new women’s basketball coach, she has everything clean and in its place.

The only visible signs of transition are three greeting cards, displayed discretely on the side of the room, far away from the stack of assistant coaching applications sitting on Borton’s desk.

After landing her first major college coaching job on May 24th, Borton has not wasted any time reveling in her accomplishments or fretting about the unrest created when University President Mark Yudof left for Texas on her first full day on the job.

Instead, Borton got right to work.

“I’ve actually gotten a lot of things done,” she said. “I’ve never walked into a situation that’s been quite this chaotic, but I’m trying to let those things take care of themselves.”

The 36-year-old Borton spent her first full week on the job reviewing coaching applications, contacting recruits and trying to eliminate the fog of uncertainty around the program in the two months since Brenda Oldfield left for Maryland on April 2nd.

Assembling a coaching staff is something Borton hopes to have completed by the end of the month, and she will likely announce the hiring of her first assistant coach sometime this week.

She held her first meeting with the team last Wednesday, but spoke with several players in her office days before the meeting.

“So far it’s going well,” Big Ten Player of the Year Lindsey Whalen said. “I’ve talked with her a couple times, and she’s very down-to-earth. She really wants to establish relationships with the players. It’s just a matter of getting to know her.”

Said Borton, “I think it’s been a great fit so far. Of all the things I have to worry about, getting to know the players is probably the easiest one.”

Getting to know recruits, however, is foremost on Borton’s task list. She made contact with many high school and AAU coaches across Minnesota, and her ebullient personality left a favorable impression with some of the state’s top players.

“She seemed very approachable,” said Lakeville center Liz Podominick, considered to be a top-20 national recruit next year. “I really liked her ideas and her philosophy.”

Encouraged by Borton’s efforts to stabilize the program, Podominick said the Gophers remain on her list of colleges to attend.

Borton boasts a national reputation as a solid recruiter, landing four top-20 recruiting classes in her five years as an assistant at Boston College.

“One of the things that makes her a great recruiter is that she loves to do it,” said Boston College assistant Kelly Cole, who coached with Borton for five years. “She has a way of connecting with kids and finding what they need.”

Borton said she received numerous calls from excited potential recruits the day after she was named Minnesota’s head coach.

“They were enthusiastic about meeting me and where the program is headed,” she said. “I think they felt very comfortable here.”

For Borton, however, feeling comfortable at Minnesota so quickly comes as a surprise, considering the program’s unsettling off-court issues.

Uncertainty surrounding the search for a permanent president and athletics director, as well as potential NCAA sanctions on the women’s basketball program, makes for a job which generated surprisingly little interest among major coaching candidates.

But Borton wasn’t so apt to run from an opportunity.

“A lot of people said this was a tough job, but she was so enthusiastic about it,” said Boston College head coach Cathy Inglese, whom Borton considers a close friend and mentor. “She loves the atmosphere and the conference, and she’s not the type to be discouraged.”

The expectations placed on the Gophers to improve on last year’s 22-8 season could also scare off most coaches with Borton’s lack of experience. She coached from 1993-97 at Vermont – her only head coaching stint.

Undaunted, Borton aims to polish up her inherited program in the way she moved into her office – swiftly and seamlessly.

“I don’t mind the pressure at all,” Borton said. “I’ve been wanting this job for too long to be discouraged by extra pressure. The reason you stay in coaching is to get a job like this, so the expectations are a good thing.”

Ben Goessling welcomes comments at [email protected]