Gophers adjusting to new style

Head coach Marlene Stollings runs her practices differently than Pam Borton.

Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B. looks to pass against Kansas on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Daily File Photo, Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B. looks to pass against Kansas on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Jack Satzinger

Head coach Marlene Stollings said at the beginning of the summer that she’d use the first few weeks of Minnesota’s summer workouts to feel out the skill sets of her new players.

Nearly a month in, the players are getting a feel for their new coaching staff, too.

“They’re very intense, but in a good way. They’re teaching us fast, so you’ve got to pay attention,” senior Shae Kelley said. “They’re going to explain something and expect you to be able to do it.”

Stollings and company’s fast-paced teaching methods mirror their up-tempo style of play on the court — something the Gophers didn’t experience under former head coach Pam Borton.

Rising sophomore Amanda Zahui B. said the contrast in coaching styles has been stark.

“We go from drill to drill,” Zahui B. said.

The majority of Minnesota’s coaching staff is currently out on the recruiting trail, but assistant coach Fred Chmiel stayed in Minneapolis to keep running practices. Before the coaches left, the Gophers had three 40-minute skill development sessions per week.

Now, the practices are more free-flowing games of pick-up basketball.

Chmiel said he’s already seen reigning Big Ten leading scorer Rachel Banham go head-to-head with highly touted incoming freshman guard Carlie Wagner.

“They’re two special players, and they’re competitive. You can tell that they’re going to bring a lot to the team. I’m excited about both of them,” said Chmiel, who’s in charge of guard development. 

Chmiel is also Minnesota’s defensive coordinator, a role in which he’s focused on establishing better communication among players.

“[We’re] talking more,” Zahui B. said. “Everybody has to do that.”

Even after Banham led Minnesota with 43 steals last season, Chmiel said her defensive game has improved. On top of that, the coaching staff has seen Banham grow into more of a leader as she heads into her senior season. 

“Rachel has stood out in terms of our on-the-court leader. She’s been doing a great job of leading not only the freshmen but the returners, and we need that,” assistant coach Niki Dawkins said.

Zahui B. received a lesson in leadership earlier this summer when she played for the Swedish national team with some women who were more than 10 years her senior. She said watching how the older players went about their business was eye-opening.

Zahui B. spent most of her time playing basketball while abroad, but she was also able to see her family.

Now that she’s back in Minnesota, she’s focused on getting in better shape to keep up with Stollings’ electric playing style.

“[We’re] trying to get the culture of aggressive and high-octane, high-energy going, and that takes a lot of work,” Chmiel said. “The kids are putting in a lot of work, getting pushed a little bit and staying strong, so that’s good.”