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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

Sophomore trio provides a strong foundation for head coach Dawn Plitzuweit

Mara Braun, Amaya Battle and Mallory Heyer all played at a high level in their first season at Minnesota.
From+left+to+right%3A+Amaya+Battle%2C+Mallory+Heyer%2C+Niamya+Holloway+and+Mara+Braun.+All+three+players+exhibited+high-level+playing+in+their+first+year+at+UMN.
Image by Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Athletics
From left to right: Amaya Battle, Mallory Heyer, Niamya Holloway and Mara Braun. All three players exhibited high-level playing in their first year at UMN.

After a tough season, Gopher women’s basketball is building for the future with new head coach Dawn Plitzuweit. Former head coach Lindsey Whalen laid a solid foundation for Plitzuweit to build around.

The core three who anchored Minnesota last season were Mara Braun, Amaya Battle and Mallory Heyer. All three are in-state players who committed to Whalen but stayed through the leadership change.

Braun was Minnesota’s leading scorer, Battle led the team in assists and Heyer was second on the team in rebounding. These youthful cornerstones are set to help build the foundation of a new era in Gophers women’s basketball. 

Mara Braun

The Gophers found some much-needed scoring from the former freshman guard. Minnesota lost its six top scorers from the 2021-22 season, but Braun gave them a boost in that category. Braun averaged 15.6 points per game, which led the team and was 12th in the Big Ten.

A highly touted recruit, ranked 28th in the country, chose to stay home and play for Minnesota. Braun originally committed to Whalen. When Whalen stepped down as head coach of Gopher women’s basketball, it left her future with the team hanging in the balance.

However, Gopher fans were relieved when Braun confirmed she was returning to Minnesota.

“We came here to represent the state and turn the program around and I intend to help finish what we started. Coach Whalen and I have talked and she wants this for us as well,” Braun told KFAN. “To shut down any speculation, I am a Gopher and look forward to continuing Coach Whalen’s vision for us and the program.”

Minnesota fans were relaxed knowing Braun was fully committed to the program. In addition, the team is back for summer camp and getting some full team action with Plitzuweit. Braun will look to build on her freshman season and help turn the Gopher basketball program around.

Amaya Battle

Another homegrown Minnesota talent, Battle, flourished in her freshman season. The Hopkins native played in all 30 games during her first year and became a key starter for the Gophers. 

Battle was lethal when driving to the basket. Her ability to get downhill and attack the defense kept defenders on their heels, helping to open up lanes for teammates to cut into. Battle’s vision led to her leading the team in assists.

Not only was Battle Minnesota’s facilitator, but her 133 assists ranked eighth in the Big Ten. Those 133 assists also broke a 45-year-old program record for most single-season assists by a freshman in Minnesota history.

The Gopher guard is focused on improving a different aspect of her game this offseason. In an episode of Gold Blooded, a podcast hosted by former Minnesota basketball star Rachel Banham, Battle mentioned she is working on her jump shot.

“Amaya has been working on her shot a lot, and she has been doing really great. She gets lots of shots up every day. It’s looking smooth. [Battle] is feeling more confident,
Banham said.

Battle rarely stepped outside the arc during her freshman season, only attempting 12 three-pointers. But, a refined jump shot could make Battle one of the toughest guards in the Big Ten. 

The addition of a three-point shot would make Battle a true three-level scorer. Overall, Battle and Braun were one of the best freshman backcourts in college basketball.

Mallory Heyer 

The Gophers got great production out of Heyer in her freshman season. The Minnesota frontcourt was menacing, with Alanna Micheaux and Heyer working together on both the offensive and defensive glass.

Numbers do not lie, and they show Minnesota was the best rebounding team in the Big Ten last season after averaging 41.9 rebounds per game. Heyer grabbed 213 rebounds on her own, placing her 12th overall among players in the conference.

The Minnesota forward averaged 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Heyer’s ability to hit the glass and rebound on both ends will fit right into Plitzuweit’s system.

Plitzuweit made it clear in her opening press conference toughness would be the first building block for the program.

“In order for us to be good defensively, you need to finish plays,” Plitzuweit said. “Whether that means tipping a pass and then go get on the floor and finish it, whether that means saving it from [going] out of bounds, whether that means finishing with the rebound. Whatever it looks like, we have to be really good at finishing plays.”

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