Players prep for late start after NCAA saves postseason hopes

Ben Goessling

For new women’s basketball coach Pam Borton, the most disappointing result of the NCAA sanctions against the team is that she will have to wait an extra week to begin practice.

The weeklong postponement – which pushed the start of preseason practice from Oct. 12 to Oct. 19 – is one of a handful of sanctions delivered to the team last week.

“It pushes all the excitement back another week,” Borton said. “But I think the players are going to use this to give them a full steam of momentum for the season.”

In addition to delaying practice, the NCAA revoked one scholarship and three official recruiting visits for each of the next two seasons but spared Minnesota from harsher penalties such as the loss of postseason play.

For some players, the conclusion signified that the Gophers are finally out of the woods.

“I think it was weighing on a lot of people’s minds whether we would lose postseason play or not,” junior guard Lindsay Whalen said. “Now that it’s out of the way, we can move on and get ready for the season.”

With recruiting for the 2003-04 season now in full swing, Borton said the restrictions will force her to plan more carefully but won’t have a major effect on her ability to sign top players.

“We just have to recruit smarter,” she said. “We have to narrow our focus a little more and make sure kids are really interested in the University before we bring them in.”

The lost week of practice could prove detrimental to Borton and her players as they become familiar with one another. But while the sanction prohibits team preseason practice, Borton can still work with players on an individual basis before the season starts.

“We’ll be creative with (the lost week of practice), and we’ll be able to work through it. I’m not too worried about it,” Whalen said.

Borton has met several players’ families and even drove to Hutchinson, Minn., last week to have dinner with Whalen and her family.

Senior guard Lindsay Lieser said Borton extended the same invitation to her and has made an effort to get to know the players.

“She’s really trying to get to know us as individuals,” Lieser said. “She’s been very sincere with us from the start.”

As the Gophers prepare for the upcoming season amid their second coaching change in two years and the sanctions’ lingering effects, some observers doubt whether they can improve on their breakout success last year.

Minnesota finished 22-8 and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight seasons, losing to North Carolina in the second round.

The team’s obstacles could motivate it as well, Lieser said, adding that she was confident Minnesota could match last year’s achievements.

“We’ve always felt like we’ve had a lot to prove, and I think this year we do too,” she said. “We want to prove to people we can do the same things as last year.”

If the Gophers do play as well as they did last season, the team’s weeklong postponement could be made up with a few extra weeks of games in March.