Women’s hoops opens season with home tourney

Dan Miller

A couple of familiar faces will be appearing in Minneapolis this weekend for the Subway Basketball Classic as Minnesota’s 13th-ranked women’s basketball team tips off its regular season.

Tera Bjorklund and Randie Wirt of Colorado, and Hana Peljto from Harvard, all graduated from high school in Minnesota.

Bjorklund, a 6-foot-5-inch center and the 6-foot-2-inch Peljto, a forward, have gained national recognition and are listed as top five players at their respective positions by ESPN.com.

“There will be some great talent this weekend, especially the players from Minnesota that play on these teams,” Gophers coach Pam Borton said.

All three visiting Minnesotans are seniors and from the same class as Gophers’ guard Lindsay Whalen.

“You have to make your own decisions,” Whalen said of choosing colleges. “It happened to be that this worked out well for me and it worked out well for them.”

But to even have a Minnesota player reunion, the Gophers will first have to beat Southern University in the opening game Saturday at 1 p.m.

The Gophers had some problems with interior defense in their exhibition win over Division II Minnesota-Duluth last Friday. Junior center Janel McCarville fouled out along with freshman forward Liz Podominick. Three other Gophers finished with four personal fouls.

“We are fine-tuning a lot of different things defensively,” Borton said. “This time of the year you are never happy with your defense.

“We had a good first half (Friday), but by the second half we weren’t consistent or aggressive.”

The Gophers are working on implementing a 2-3 zone to give offenses a different defensive look.

“We need to have another defense other than a man-to-man that we can use on teams,” Minnesota sophomore guard Shannon Schonrock said.

If the Gophers end up facing Colorado they will be tested inside with Bjorklund drawing center attention.

Individually, it will be an early season test for McCarville. The 6-foot-2-inch center will give up some size and will have to have help from her teammates.

“If we do see Bjorklund, help side will be key and also digging down with the guards,” Schonrock said.

In any case, the 22nd annual home tournament will have a definite Minnesota look – and a better talent look.

The Gophers have won their own tournament the last three seasons but have made some upgrades this year.

Indiana, Purdue, Fort Wayne and Radford were easy work for Minnesota a year ago.

This year, Colorado ranks 16th in the polls and has the Minnesotan Bjorklund, one of the best centers in the country.

Harvard returns all five of its starters, is looking for its third straight NCAA tournament appearance and boasts Peljto – the 2003 Ivy League player of the year.

“With the players we have coming from these teams and our players, there are going to be some talented Minnesota kids in the gym,” Borton said.