Gophers women are something special

These women provide a whole new type of role model for young girls.

Yesterday, the University women’s basketball team made the Elite Eight of NCAA college basketball. This is a spectacular accomplishment – the result of consistent progress, and startling given where they were three years ago. Still, this team’s success consists of bigger wins and statistics.

In 2001-02, when the current seniors were freshmen, the team was 8-20 and drew an average of 1,087 fans per home game, leaving many seats open in the Sports Pavilion. This season, the 2003-04 team is 24-8, while drawing an average of 9,437 spectators per home game, often selling out The Barn. The 2003-04 attendance totals were eighth-highest nationwide, while the 2001-02 attendance figures failed to place in the top 100. The progression has been steady over the last three years, and no matter what measure one uses, the improvement is apparent.

Senior captain Lindsay Whalen would likely be quick to point out that congratulations are due for the entire team. But because of Whalen’s spectacular career and truly special talents, she stands out. Among other honors, Whalen has received multiple All-American accolades, won a gold medal and is the highest-scoring basketball player in Minnesota history, male or female. Still, the unique effect Whalen has had on Minnesota is far bigger than these honors. Minnesota has never seen a female athlete with Whalen’s popular appeal. Her success has both made her a role model and driven the team’s surging popularity.

The women’s basketball team is not the sole success story at the University. The women’s hockey team, which yesterday won the NCAA championship, is another story of the growing popular appeal of women’s sports. The team is a perennial national contender and has a consistently growing fan base. It is one of the few women’s teams in the country with its own facility.

The surge in popularity of women’s basketball and women’s sports in general is a clear benefit to the community. These women provide a whole new type of role model for young girls. Furthermore, part of their fan base did not attend or enjoy University sports. This trend means increased support for Gophers athletics and gives the University an opportunity to provide value to the public at large.

Hopefully, women’s sports can build on their successes in the coming years. The women’s basketball team will hopefully start tomorrow against Duke.