Women’s hoops loses freshmen McGhee, Motley

Mark Heller

Eventually, Cheryl Littlejohn couldn’t hold back a tear or two.
Last week, the Minnesota women’s basketball coach lost starting point guard Antoinetta Blevins for the rest of the season.
In the first half of Sunday night’s 22-point loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay, freshman point guard Trish McGhee landed wrong on a layup and injured her knee. She has not practiced and will not play in tonight’s game against Ohio University at the Sports Pavilion. Her MRI results are expected to be released today.
Now, freshman guard Natea Motley — whom Littlejohn raved about since she recruited Motley in Detroit — has left the team and Minnesota to go back home.
Motley, who turns 18 at the end of the week, saw little playing time due to a stress fracture in her right femur. She averaged 1.3 points and eight minutes per game.
Motley sat out her junior year in high school and gave birth to her daughter, Dae’Rell, in October 1997. She was a Nike High School All-American her senior year.
But the pressures of being a student-athlete and a mother became too much.
“I regret having to leave the University of Minnesota,” Motley said in a press release. “However, balancing academics, motherhood and athletics was tough. I have moved back to Detroit where I will have more family and friends to support my daughter and myself.”
Motley did not travel with the team last weekend. She had conversations with Littlejohn and women’s athletic director Chris Voelz last week about leaving the team.
“I met with Natea last week and I met with Cheryl last night,”Voelz said. “I just told Cheryl that we’re due for some good luck. You can only do what you can do.
“No coach who puts time and energy into a team can just take it “in stride.”
Littlejohn said she offered to let Motley leave the team for a couple weeks to contemplate her future, but it didn’t happen.
“None of us have had children,” Littlejohn said, referring to her and Voelz. “We’ve never gone through what she has. I think she was just overwhelmed.
“At 17, she’s been an adult a long time. She could have stepped back away and then maybe come back, but I know the importance of that child.”
The team insists there were no hard feelings between Motley and any of the players or coaches, and Littlejohn said the door will always be open for Motley to return to Minnesota if she so chooses.
“She showed up in the weight room on Thursday and said that what is here isn’t for her right now,” sophomore guard Cassie VanderHeyden said. “It was never because of anybody.
“We’d love for her to play with us, but her life is much more important.”
Now the loss of Blevins, McGhee and Motley have turned Littlejohn’s first-laid plans to dust, forcing her to find alternatives to key players counted on heading into the season. The Gophers are down to 10 healthy players (one of which is a walk-on) for at least tonight’s game.
And the short squad has definitely revised expectations for what had been an optimistic season.
“I think (when you lose three players) your expectations have to change,”Voelz said. “It’s not like it’s a 100-person roster and three are just a mere percentage.
“I don’t know if it’s a severe blow, but it’s at least a speed bump.”
The Gophers know they have no choice but to look ahead, but the events of the past week have made things even more difficult for the Gophers in their quest to turn the program around.
For her part, Littlejohn is trying to remain positive about the setbacks.
“(Admininstrative assistant) Kim McGrew said ‘When you have a setback, you don’t take a step back, you have a comeback,'”Littlejohn said. “We have no choice but to focus on what we have left, not what’s left.”
That said, Voelz knows things have definitely changed.
“I think we have to reset the goals and take it from there,” she said.

Mark Heller covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]