Four returners lead Gophers

The team won its first game in the NCAA Tournament last year but fell in round two.

by Aleutian Calabay

The Gophers womenâÄôs basketball team is loaded with confidence as they prepare to start their exhibition schedule at 7 p.m. Wednesday night against Winona State. Minnesota is coming off a 2008-09 campaign in which they finished 20-12 overall and 13-5 in the Big Ten. The Gophers squeaked into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 10 seed but made a statement by knocking off seventh-seeded Notre Dame 79-71 in the opening round. The feeling of elation didnâÄôt last long, as Minnesota was blasted out of the tournament two days later by Texas A&M 73-42. However, both the win and loss in the NCAA Tournament give Minnesota plenty to build on as they move into this season. âÄúI think weâÄôve really worked hard to get back to this point,âÄù said Gophers head coach Pam Borton , who is entering her eighth season at the helm. âÄúI think people respect our program; people respect the work ethic and the players and what weâÄôve done and what weâÄôre doing. They look at our team, and weâÄôre very veteran laden. âÄúI think weâÄôve done a great job getting our program to the point where weâÄôre at.âÄù The leadership from the veteran-heavy Gophers begins with their trio of senior captains, Brittany McCoy , Ashley Ellis-Milan and Katie Ohm . Each one of the three gives Minnesota an experienced playmaker at various dynamics of the game. McCoy gives Minnesota a three-year starting point guard that is one of the best in Gophers history at dishing out assists. She has over 100 assists in each season, and her 367 assists are already fourth all-time for Minnesota. Ohm is a fifth-year senior guard that continually gives Minnesota an outside shooting threat. Her 156 career three-points are currently third on the Gophers all-time list. Ohm averaged 9.1 points and 3.1 rebounds last season . Ellis-Milan enters this season as the GophersâÄô top scoring threat. The three-year starter is a force in the post, averaging 11.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game a season ago, earning her 2009 team MVP honors. âÄúOur leadership is better than itâÄôs been since Lindsay Whalen was a senior,âÄù Borton said. âÄúWe just have a group of players this year that are leading this team that are on a mission, that are hungry.âÄù Minnesota is returning a total of four starters this season. In addition to the seniors, the Gophers also return sophomore power forward Jackie Voigt . As a true freshman, Voigt averaged 5.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game for the Gophers, and she looks to continue building into this season. âÄúI think our expectations for our team are really high,âÄù Voigt said. âÄúMaking it to the second round of the NCAA tournament last year was a huge accomplishment, but we have even more talent this year, and our goal is to get back to the tournament and keep going.âÄù The biggest obstacle the Gophers need to overcome is the loss of Emily Fox, who was drafted by the Minnesota Lynx in the third round (No. 30 overall) of last seasonâÄôs WNBA draft. Fox led the Gophers in scoring last season with 12.8 points per game . Minnesota will count on the emergence of sophomore Kiara Buford to help fill the scoring void. Buford averaged 6.9 points per game last season coming off the bench, earning her Big Ten All-Freshman team honors. âÄúI think you can expect good things from us this year. It should be fun to watch,âÄù Ohm said. âÄúWe have a lot of athletic players, more so than we have had in the last couple of years, so it should be fun.âÄù