Trailblazers look to lead women’s hoops

Mark Heller

Cheryl Littlejohn was mad.
So were the players.
Tuesday’s chat with the media was not so much of a chat as it was a venting of frustrations.
Littlejohn’s women’s basketball team is 2-2 heading into this weekend’s games at Bradley and Green Bay.
“My expressions of being down right now are not because of the loss to the team,” Littlejohn said. “It’s just where we are right now. Right now we should be 4-0.”
For the past several years, this team might have been happy to take a 2-2 nonconference record at this point. In the past the idea of going 4-0 would be far ahead of schedule.
The blatant unhappiness of both players and coaches could be the first sign that the team expects more.
For the first time in a long while, the Gophers appear to have the table set for a program turn-around. Perhaps the two biggest reasons for this optimism fall on Littlejohn’s two new recruiting classes to join the program: this year and next year.
The early play of freshmen Trish McGhee, Lindsay Lieser and Kim Prince, and the potential of a healthy Natea Motley give a glimpse of what this year’s newcomers can tap into.
“Last year’s class of Cassie (VanderHeyden), Kim Bell and Jackie Tate put us in the right direction,” senior Erin Olson said before the Regal Classic in November. “This year’s class does the same thing. We’ve got a lot of shooters, ball handlers, low-post players, tons of athleticism and ability.”
Blevins, however, injured her ACL during warm-ups before last Tuesday’s game against San Diego. The senior point guard is out for the season.
That is a huge void the Gophers have to fill this season, which in turn could force McGhee and Lieser to develop in a hurry.
“You have to rally the troops and we have a game (today),” Littlejohn said. “I can’t worry about things I have no control of. A lot of people have to step up, and for us that’s a lot of young people.”
Finally, they have the potential to do that.
Class of 2000
Something tells them they’re into something good.
More than 250 people assembled at Planet Hollywood on November 11 in the Mall of America to celebrate the signing of five top recruits.
They are the “U-Crew 2000”; Leslie Hill, Tanisha Gilbert, Megan Kane, Angel Leon and Lindsay Whalen signed themselves up to play for the Gophers next year.
All five were highly recruited, and four of the recruits are from Minnesota.
“I think we can make it into a winning program,” Kane said. “Right here we have five great recruits, four from in-state. We’re going to be good enough to turn it around.”
“We’re going to have our ups and downs,” Hill said. “After our second year, we better be on top.”
Littlejohn wasn’t in attendance that night, but she echoed Kane’s remarks, calling next year’s class, “trailblazers.”
When asked about next year’s class, Littlejohn couldn’t stop raving about them, especially Gilbert.
“It’s probably the best class Minnesota has signed in the last 10 years,” she said. “The most athletic, gifted class. It says a lot when you can sign some of the top players in the country and they’re in your state. It says a lot about the four young women who decided to stay.
“It’s a lot harder to make tradition than to walk into tradition.”
Tradition has not been very evident in the 90s at Minnesota. The team is not happy with a 2-2 record, and whether Littlejohn wanted it or not, the brand-new players to the college game are being counted on to step up big.
Still, the potential of a young team and the class to follow has given the program a real buzz.
The last time the Gophers had a winning season was 1992-93, when they went 14-12 overall, 9-9 in the Big Ten under Linda Hill-MacDonald.
With a little time, that season might not be remembered.
“The freshman players will play an important role on this team,” Prince said. “We have a lot of athletic freshmen coming and helping. We just have to step up and do our part to be more successful than last year.”

Mark Heller covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]