Seniors remain positive amid lack of NCAA success

Leah Cotton and Katie Loberg haven’t played in an NCAA tournament, and the Gophers’ chances this year are slim.

Samuel Gordon

Women’s basketball players Katie Loberg and Leah Cotton make up the only one of Pam Borton’s senior classes at Minnesota that’s never played in an NCAA tournament.

But both will have a lot to play for Thursday when the unranked Gophers face No. 7 Penn State on Senior Night at Williams Arena.

“It would mean so much,” Cotton said of a possible upset. “This is one of the games you remember — what happens Senior Night, your last time playing at the Barn.”

Cotton and Loberg both said the men’s basketball team’s victory over No. 1 Indiana on Tuesday was inspiring.

“To get a win on Senior Night would probably be the cherry on top of the year for me so far,” Loberg said.

This year hasn’t gone as planned for Loberg.

The 6-foot-4-inch forward spent most of her sophomore and junior seasons in the starting lineup.

But a preseason knee injury forced her to miss the first two games of the season.

When she returned, it was as a reserve, and she’s only played 11 minutes per game since.

Despite the initial disappointment, Loberg said her senior season has been a positive experience.

“It’s helped me become a better person,” she said. “I’ve seen a different side of basketball. Coming off the bench isn’t something I’m used to. I started to learn my role.”

Loberg and Cotton, a 5-foot-8-inch guard who has spent much of her career coming off the bench, said the relationships and camaraderie with their teammates have been incredibly rewarding.

“It’s not even about basketball games for me and [the team],” Loberg said. “We just have fun being together.”

Borton said the seniors provided leadership and helped guide what she referred to as “a young team.”

“I really think they’ve helped this group head in the right direction,” she said.

Borton also said she’s disappointed the group didn’t qualify for an NCAA tournament.

Cotton expressed disappointment, too, but she’s still not writing off a tournament berth this season.

To make that happen, the Gophers would likely have to win their last two regular-season games and make a run in the Big Ten tournament.

“We have to grind through a lot of things, but it’s definitely possible,” she said. “Don’t write us off just yet.”