Male scout team preps Gophers women for games

The male players practice with a different pace and intensity.

Former Maple Grove High School forward A.J. Litwinchuk practices with the Gophers women's basketball team Tuesday, February 5, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Amanda Snyder

Former Maple Grove High School forward A.J. Litwinchuk practices with the Gophers women’s basketball team Tuesday, February 5, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Samuel Gordon

At every Gophers women’s basketball practice, kinesiology junior Carson Fossum tries to make Rachel Banham’s life a living hell.

Fossum is the point guard of an all-male, volunteer practice squad that helps prepare the women for games.

The scout team, under the direction of Minnesota’s assistant coaches, runs Gophers’ opponent’s plays and defenses at practice.

Gophers head coach Pam Borton said the scout team practices at a different pace, which forces Minnesota’s players to be more focused.

Women’s basketball programs throughout the nation have scout teams for that reason.

“They definitely bring a whole different intensity level to practice,” Borton said.

There are several scouts, but some show up to practice more than others.

Fossum, who played three years of varsity basketball at Rochester Century High School, is in his second year on the scout team. Former Maple Grove forward A.J. Litwinchuk is in his third year.

They’re two of the regulars who saw the scout team as a way to continue playing basketball competitively.

“I try to make it three or four times a week if you can,” Litwinchuk said. “It’s great to get in here, get a workout in, keep in basketball shape and be around basketball still.”

Litwinchuk said his sister indirectly put him in contact with the Gophers’ director of basketball operations. He inquired about a spot on the practice team, landed it and has been part of the team ever since.

Fossum, on the other hand, was recruited by Gophers players.

“I was up at the [recreation center], and I ran into a couple of the girls. They said I should join the scout team,” Fossum said. “They gave me the coach’s information, and here I am.”

Fossum takes his job so seriously that he scheduled his classes around Minnesota’s early afternoon practices.

When at practice, the scouts usually get the best of the Gophers’ women.

“They’re all in different shapes and sizes. They’re quick. They’re pretty strong,” forward-center Micaëlla Riché said. “They’re definitely a good challenge.”

Banham said the scouts bring lots of energy and make it tough on the players.

“No boy wants to lose to a girl,” the point guard said.

At Tuesday’s practice, though, the Gophers women had their way with their counterparts.

While practicing against a zone defense, the women hit five straight three-pointers, including three from Banham.

Litwinchuk said the scouts feel a sense of pride when Minnesota plays that well in games. He watches some games on TV and some in person. Fossum has missed one game in the last two seasons.

“It makes you feel good when they win,” Litwinchuk said, “and when they lose, you think, ‘What could I have done better in practice?’”