Losses, adversity mark seniors’ career at U

by Jim Schortemeyer

Seniors Swantreca Taylor, Sonja Robinson and Mindy Hansen don’t want to talk about losing. As members of the women’s basketball team, they have just 19 wins to go with their 89 losses in the past four years.
They’ve seen a lot. They’re the last players on the Gophers’ roster who played under former coach Linda Hill-MacDonald. They’ve seen two coaches, seven players benched during last year’s Big Ten tournament and more losses than they care to remember.
It’s hard for the seniors to even describe the difference between that first season and now.
“Oh wow, it’s just incredible. I don’t even know how to put it into words,” Hansen said. “It was just different styles. Hill-MacDonald let you figure it out while coach (Cheryl) Littlejohn is right in your face, telling you what you did wrong.”
There’s been plenty for Littlejohn to point out, and most of Hill-MacDonald’s recruits couldn’t handle the difference in styles. Maybe that’s why the senior trio is the only remnant of the Hill-MacDonald era.
Hansen said the reason many players dropped off the team was because they were too tentative.
Taylor, a fifth-year senior, can even remember the last decent Minnesota season. She was here when the Gophers went 12-15 during her freshman year.
The three seniors who stayed with the coaching transition are loaded with the qualities Littlejohn loves: intensity, quickness and teamwork. But today’s team concept is radically different from when Robinson started playing for Minnesota.
“When I came in, it was one person who basically was the Minnesota Gophers. They carried the load,” Robinson said.
But nobody’s been carrying the load for Minnesota of late. There’s been a lot of losing going on, and after four years, it took a heavy toll on the players. But after a while, they learned to move past the losing and maintain their sanity.
“Losing is always hard to do,” Robinson said. “We just came to a point where we focused on getting better. If you sit there and dwell, it’s not good. We learned that our freshman year.”
They had to learn it during Hansen and Robinson’s freshman year when the team went 4-23 overall and 0-16 in the Big Ten.
“We were kind of snakebit when it comes down to it,” Hill-MacDonald said. “We had high hopes for that season. But a lot of people got injured or left the team.”
And things haven’t exactly gotten better for the Gophers since that first horrid season. Naturally, the seniors wish some things were different.
“In my entire five years here, I would have liked a better winning season,” Taylor said.
But it’s not as if the trio of seniors has been out of place on a new team and a new regime. The seniors have helped form the attitude of a very young team.
Robinson is the heart of the team. At 5-foot-11, she’s not the prototypical inside player, yet Robinson is the team leader in rebounds.
“She’s all heart,” Littlejohn said earlier in the year. “That’s what rebounding is. It’s effort and positioning.”
Hansen and Taylor are only occasional starters, but work hard in practice — a must under Littlejohn. So why have the three stuck through three seasons of losing basketball?
Maybe it has something to do with where they think the team’s going. This year’s 7-19 record and two Big Ten wins are both highs since the seniors joined the team.
And while a 7-19 record certainly isn’t good, Taylor, Robinson and Hansen wouldn’t mind sticking around.
“I wish I was a freshman because I know this team’s going straight up,” Taylor said.