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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

Episode 40: Gophers women’s basketball lose six to transfer portal

In this episode of the “Weekly Rundown,” our staff reviews the transfer portal moves from women’s basketball, what players will be on the team next year and give an update on men’s baseball.

INTRO MUSIC

ANNA LANDIS: Hello, and welcome back to the weekly rundown from the Minnesota Daily. I am your host Anna Landis, our sports editor with episode 40, and today I am joined by Tony Liebert, our women’s basketball reporter. Hi, Tony.

TONY LIEBERT: Hi, how’s it going?

LANDIS: I’m good, thank you. And today we are here to discuss some of the recent shakeups with the women’s basketball team here at Minnesota. Since the end of the season, there have been some people entering the transfer portal, as well as a big career achievement for head coach Lindsay Whalen. So Tony, if you could first just give us a sort of lay of the land and sort of how the regular season and their short postseason sort of played out?

LIEBERT: Yeah. So obviously the college basketball season for the men’s and women’s wrapped up over the weekend. And the Gopher season wrapped up early in March, they finished with a 15 and 18 overall record. They were seven and 11 in the Big Ten conference.

And they were knocked out in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in March. They lost to Northwestern and it looked like their season was going to be over, but they got invited to the women’s NIT tournament, which is a tournament for all of the teams that don’t get invited to the NCAA tournament, the March Madness one, the one that everyone knows, and it gives them a chance to compete in the postseason against teams in other conferences and just play more basketball. 

And the Gophers won their first round game against Wisconsin Green Bay. But then they were knocked out of the second round against South Dakota State. So then, I guess fast forward to now – like Anna said there is a lot of shake ups with the roster. During the season, there were two players that entered the transfer portal, Jasmine Powell in January, and Klarke Sconiers also did during the season and Erin Hedman did in early March. So Jasmine Powell was a three-year starter at point guard and was a big contributor, Klarke Sconiers and Erin Hedman were both, played more of a reserve role this season, but they were involved with the team. 

And since then, there have been three other players that have joined the transfer portal. Junior leading scorer, Sara Scalia, redshirt junior Kadi Sissoko and sophomore Alexia Smith, bringing the total to six since the start of the 2022 year.

LANDIS: Right, so during the season when they lost Powell and those other players, what sort of adjustments did they have to make? 

LIEBERT: Oh yeah, so Powell has been the team’s point guard for really all three of her seasons. And she was one of their best players. She ran the offense. She averaged – this season – 12.4 points per game 5.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds. Her point total was second on the team. The 5.7 assists ranked first and 4.4 rebounds was third. So that’s a lot of production that’s lost. 

And the team kind of leaned on Sara Scalia even more, who’s been a major contributor, and she took on more of the point guard role and facilitator role, and her score and even increased more to 17.9 points per game.

 And then players like senior Gadiva Hubbard and sophomore Alexia Smith – they both took on a bigger role. But you could tell they were kind of missing that true point guard they had earlier in the season. And they were able to rattle off some big wins at the end of the year and they were playing good basketball in March. But you could tell that they were missing their leader at the point guard position.

LANDIS: Yeah, it seemed throughout this season, and you know, maybe more so towards the end, they did really struggle kind of closing out on games. I feel like there were a lot of like, very close losses.

LIEBERT: Yeah.

LANDIS: So now, with six people gone, they do have a big hole in their roster. They have a very high-caliber recruiting class coming in, which will partly help fill those spots. But in the middle of covering all of these transfer portal stories, there was some positive news for the Gophers that broke on Friday the first of April. So what was that, Tony?

LIEBERT: So head coach Lindsay Whalen was inducted, er, named to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in the 2022 class. Or the Basketball Hall of Fame is interesting, because it’s kind of different than any other sport. It’s more encompassing of the sport as a whole, like in sports like the NFL or MLB. It’s just the NFL Hall of Fame in the MLB Hall of Fame. But for basketball, it’s basketball as a whole. 

LANDIS: Yeah. 

LIEBERT: So Lindsay Whalen got recognized as one of the more influential members in the game of basketball, let alone women’s basketball. So that was definitely very cool to see her get her deserved recognition, amidst maybe a disappointing season. She’s still one of the biggest names in the history of women’s basketball. So it was great to see her finally get recognized.

LANDIS: Yeah, I mean Lindsay Whalen is one of the most noteworthy female athletes to come out of the state of Minnesota, so very well-deserved recognition there. Unfortunate that players are choosing to leave the program at the same time but that is their own decision, and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with a coach all of the time. And it is easier for them to do that now, but with that said, who will be joining the program next year to try and come in and fill some of those empty spots? 

Right? Yeah and I briefly mentioned it earlier but could you explain the changes to the transfer portal that have been made in the past couple years, and in particular, that rule about having to sit out a year after transferring is no longer a thing anymore, right?

LIEBERT: You’ve been able to transfer and have immediate eligibility when in the past, you had to sit out a year. And that’s kind of what’s causing this influx of more players doing it. 

LANDIS: Yeah, sort of a more fluid situation. And I think in this conversation about the transfer portal it’s important to keep in mind that these are not just athletes they’re also students so that is a big of influence as playing in some cases and it’s important to, you know, facilitate an environment where they can get their education and just go to school because that was the NCAA’s argument in court during some of the proceedings to try and change the rules related to name, image and likeness. 

Their argument in a court of law was that, at the time, they did not want to pay players because they were paying them in effect by giving them an education so to be able to complete their education or pursue their education elsewhere is probably a large motivating factor for some athletes and it’s not necessarily always because of a coach. 

LIEBERT: Yeah, definitely. I would agree with that. And as for the team next year, the Gophers are losing the majority of the team they had this year. Like I said, Jasmine Powell, Sara Scalia, Kadi Sissoko, Alexia Smith, are joining Erin Hedman and Klarke Sconiers in the transfer portal and then on top of that, Deja Winters, Gadiva Hubbard, Laura Bagwell Katalinich and Bailey Helgren are all graduating so that yeah, so that makes 10 total players that are either graduating or entering the transfer portal. 

So that only leaves three players as of now that are for sure returning to the team next year. Freshman Alanna Michaeux had a really solid freshman year where she showed some of her potential that she can be a great player in the Big Ten. And she’s the only returning player who really had a major role on the team as Katie Borowicz injured her back at the start of the year, and she sat out the entire season. She’s a sophomore guard, she played a little bit as a freshman. 

So she’ll probably have a large role next season, she scored almost, she scored over 2000 points in high school in Roseau, Minnesota, so she’ll probably have a big role and then Maggie Czinano redshirted this year as a true freshman, so she’ll be a redshirt freshman next year. But so those three players are going to join a pretty big recruiting class.

LANDIS: Right, you know, on the men’s side here in Minnesota we did see it sort of similar exodus of players last year that was precipitated by a coaching change on the men’s basketball team here that was precipitated by a coaching change on the men’s basketball team here so little different situation, but they were able to get new people in and you know have a pretty decent year so how is the recruiting class coming in looking like they are 10th ranked by ESPN right?

LIEBERT: Yeah. Um, so this is the highest-ranked recruiting class in the history of the program. ESPN ranks it 10th best in the entire country. And Lindsay Whalen did a great job recruiting some in-state talent, four players from Minnesota. The highest ranked player is Mara Braun from Wayzata, who’s ranked as the 28th best player in the country. And sister of current men’s basketball standout Jamison Battle, Amaya Battle. She comes in as the 39th best player in the country. And then, Mallory Heyer ranks 55th from Chaska, Minnesota, she is a six-foot-one forward so she’ll bring some size for the Gophers. And then six-foot, six-foot forward Niamya Holloway rounds out the group. She ranks as the 90th best player in the country from Eden Prairie.

LANDIS: Yeah and basketball, high school basketball, AAU basketball in Minnesota has really grown over the last few years and has started to produce really quality athletes that can  compete at the college level so it’s exciting to sort of bring in those names people may be familiar with, certainly exciting for fans but you know with a whole new group of people, aside from three roster spots what are you sort of expecting from the team next season?

LIEBERT: Yeah. Um, so as much as the transfer portal sometimes feels like it takes away players from your team, you can also get a lot of players. And with so many leaving, I would expect Coach Whalen and the program to be pretty active in the offseason, looking for more players to add. Last offseason, they added Deja Winters from North Carolina A & T and Bailey Helgren from Kansas. So Coach Whalen has definitely shown the willingness to add players from the transfer portal. So I think they definitely could do that again. 

But as for the players currently on the team, they do have a lot of talent like Katie Borowicz and Alanna Michaeux are two very talented players. And I think they could be very good players in the Big Ten. And then they’re like, we just went through, they’re joining a very highly touted recruiting class. So they’re going to be a very young team. And it’s still very early in the process, because I would honestly expect them to add as many as four or five players from the transfer portal because right now they only have seven people on the team. 

LANDIS: Right.

LIEBERT: And last year, they had, I think, like 13 or 14 scholarship players. 

LANDIS: Yeah. 

LIEBERT: And so it might be a little too early to tell exactly their ceiling as a team, but like Lindsay Whalen is still a very big name in the women’s basketball community. So I think she might be able to draw some big names in the transfer portal. But as of now, it’s not looking like they’re going to compete for a Big Ten championship.

LANDIS:  Yeah. 

LIEBERT: But they have a high ceiling, they have very talented players on their team so they could compete with some of the best teams in the Big Ten. But I’d probably say they’re going to kind of have a similar year that they had this year with a lot of moving parts again.

LANDIS: Yeah. Right, and Tony, now that women’s basketball has finished up you have moved over to helping us with our baseball coverage. The team is now on a two-game win streak winning tonight April 12th over St. Thomas in a 2-1 win after winning on Sunday 4-3 to Maryland but overall the team is 10-20 so what have you seen from the team so far? What, what are they struggling with?

LIEBERT: Yeah so, head coach, John Anderson, obviously, one of the more veteran coaches in the sport of baseball, he’s had plenty of experience. Past two seasons, they’ve kind of struggled with consistency, they had a really down year last year. And they’re kind of having the same problems this year. 

They’re not getting too much production at the, on the offensive side of the, of the field. They’re falling down early in a lot of these games. They’re starting pitching, struggling, and kind of putting them in a hole at the start of the games and their offense isn’t as, isn’t explosive enough to pull them out. 

And that that’s kind of the same issue they had last year. Like, they go through stretches where they look like a good team and they’re, they’re sticking with with whoever they’re playing, but it’s just, it’s just a consistency thing. They’re just, they’ve just been up and down and they just can’t seem to get on a roll like they have in past years.

LANDIS: Yeah and you know developing that consistency will be even more important now that they’ve moved into Big Ten play they are facing off against the Iowa Hawkeyes this weekend a big rivalry for the fans, so we will see if they can sort of even out and then get some consistency going against the Hawkeyes and we will be keeping up with your coverage there for the rest of the season 

And Tony, thank you so much for being here today. Before you go, I would just like to give a moment for you to give your Twitter handle to people we are very active on Twitter as a sports desk that’s where a lot of our breaking news and live tweeting happens, so if you’re interested  you can give Tony a follow, and the rest of us here at the Daily. 

LIEBERT: Yeah, you can follow me on Twitter at Tony Leibert that is @tonyliebert. And yeah, I try to tweet everything Gopher sports. And if you’re a fan of Gopher sports, give me a follow. 

LANDIS: Tony, again thank you so much for being here, and thank you for listening, I am your host Anna Landis and this has been the Weekly Rundown from the Minnesota Daily. Tune into our next episode where we sit down with our men’s hockey reporter Michael Lyne to discuss his  reporting trip to Boston to the Frozen Four to cover the men’s hockey team.

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