Gophers, it’s time for everything to sink in

Brian Stensaas

Moments after helping her teammates and coach Pam Borton cut down the net in Norfolk, Va., on Tuesday night, Minnesota women’s basketball sophomore Shannon Schonrock was interviewed by a local Twin Cities television station.

She was asked how it felt to knock off top-seeded Duke, thus stamping the Gophers’ first-ever ticket to the Final Four.

Her reaction? Stating that the experience was “unbelievable” over and over, about as many times as ESPN’s Dick Vitale elongates the final syllable of a word in any given broadcast.

Then, like so many athletes of our generation, Schonrock said the inevitable.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet.”

She wasn’t the only one. Everyone else on the team who was asked for an interview said the exact same thing. As have others.

A quick Internet search of the overused phrase hits 1,940 Web pages in just under half of a second.

Minnesota’s players are just the latest. Everyone from Jamie Friebel, who won the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Circuit tournament in 2002, to Daley Peters, the 2004 Target Junior Men’s Provincial curling champion, have uttered those five words to reporters as a description of how their respective feat feels.

Hey, Gophers. Grab a shovel, dig a hole and reel out the hose; it’s time for it all to sink in.

You’ve done it. Officially, you’re the first team ever, men or women, to return to campus as NCAA regional champions and move on to the final weekend of play.

In February, when star player Lindsay Whalen broke her hand in a fall felt from here all the way from Ohio, a lot of critics and even some supporters declared this team done.

Goodbye regular season hopes and postseason dreams. Hello, memories.

Many likely thought that with Whalen, a senior standout, out with the broken bones meant this team had no chance. Like Whalen’s shooting mitt, the season was fractured.

But those people forgot about Janel McCarville’s monster presence in the low post, Schonrock’s animated sparkplug presence from beyond the three-point arc and Shannon Bolden’s tenacious “oh-no-you-don’t” defense – not to mention a remaining lineup that does not seem to register the word “quit.”

With the third, second and top seeds from the Mideast Region all in their dust, the time is now for Gophers women’s basketball.

Late Tuesday, at 2:14 a.m. Wednesday to be exact, a healthy throng of supporters unleashed a plethora of Party Blaster brand confetti over the west tunnel as the team returned to Williams Arena from Virginia.

The net dangling around Whalen’s neck represented something that had never legitimately been done here before. After waving to a droopy-eyed crowd estimated in the upper-hundreds – an attendance figure not too far off from what the Sports Pavilion drew for primetime games in the not-so distant past – the star captain took the microphone and stated the obvious.

“It’s kinda late,” she said. “Thanks for coming out.”

Whalen, too, had not yet let the feeling sink in. After all, she admitted after the coming-home rally that one of her favorite moments of coming back to campus was the police escort the charter bus received.

Later that day, at a midafternoon press conference, Borton finally set the record straight. Yes, the feeling had indeed sunk in. The Gophers are ready to take on the two-time defending national champion UConn Huskies.

Here we go again.

You wonder how long the feeling of beating that powerhouse would take to sink in.