Gophers’ seniors bond through adversity

Senior Annalese Lamke goes up for a shot on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 at Williams Arena.

Image by Tony Saunders

Senior Annalese Lamke goes up for a shot on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 at Williams Arena.

by Babatunde Jinadu

The Gophers senior class already played its last game at Williams Arena, but the impact it left remains.

This year’s senior class is a unique group that has seen adversity during a variable season both on and off the court. All the while, they were learning to play under a new coaching staff.

“I could not have asked for a better senior year, coached by one of the best, Lindsay Whalen,” said senior Palma Kaposi. “Playing under these circumstances my last year, I’m really appreciative. I’ve really enjoyed this year, and it hasn’t ended yet, so that’s what’s fun about that. We can play some more games together and enjoy it.”

The team began the year with a 12-0 record, and Whalen tied for the best start by a Gophers head coach in their first season. However, once Big Ten conference play started, the Gophers quickly dropped seven of nine games. The group banded together to finish on a strong note though, and ended 9-9 in conference play.

As a team, their goal was to qualify for this year’s NCAA Tournament. Although it looks like they’ve fallen short of doing that, they may receive an invitation to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament as consolation.

“It’s always disappointing that you didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. I’m a little sad about that,” said Annalese Lamke. “I think the team showed a lot of grit this season because we started 2-7 in non-conference, and finished .500. I think that shows how we fought a lot.”

Looking back on the season, the players agree their win over Syracuse was one of their proudest moments.

“I really loved the Syracuse game from this year. Everybody was in it to win it,” said Kenisha Bell. “I think that was one of my best memories, everybody gave everything that they had. I’ve never seen the team so excited for a win, especially non-conference.”

The group has certainly come a long way. Neither Lamke, Kaposi nor Garrido Perez saw much playing time before this year. For them, it was a struggle to get over the mental hurdle of not playing in games.

“When I wasn’t getting a lot of playing time for some of the three years, sometimes it kind of felt like something I wished I could’ve gotten, or like I should be playing,” Lamke said. “Obviously, it’s a team sport, and everyone has a role on the team. Finding a way to know that my role on the team is positive, regardless of if it’s on the court or not; being able to push through and still work on everything even when you’re not getting the minutes on the court was difficult.”

Garrido Perez moved into a starting position on the team halfway through the season. She made 41 percent of her 3-point shots on the year.

Kaposi was relied on for her rebounding, and she grabbed 89 boards in 26 games. Meanwhile, Lamke had new career-highs in several categories, including 21 points on opening night in front of a crowd of over 14,000 fans.

Kenisha Bell started every game this year, and she averaged about 19 points per contest to rank near the top of the Big Ten.

“I feel like I was giving my all each game, to try to give my team the Kenisha that they know,” said Bell. “Not trying to do stuff extra that I don’t usually do. But, also doing whatever it took to get a win or to get my team going.”

Now both Garrido Perez and Kaposi are open to the possibility of continuing their careers by playing basketball overseas. Lamke is currently pursuing a master’s degree, and Bell hopes to be drafted into the WNBA.

“I want to enter the draft and hopefully go to the WNBA,” Bell said. “If that works out, then great. If that doesn’t, I want to play overseas somewhere to keep this rolling, because I feel like I got a lot more in me.”