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All eyes on Gophers women’s basketball under new leadership

Minnesota will open a highly anticipated season on Nov. 8 with a brand new coaching staff and seasoned sophomores.
Image by Wejdan al Balushi
Gophers are acclimating to their new team members.

Minnesota Gophers women’s basketball team will open a highly anticipated season Wednesday under a new coaching staff after a season full of adversity.

The Gophers spent their offseason acclimating to the new staff, developing their returning players and welcoming the new ones.

Sophomore Mara Braun is just one of the players returning to the Gophers. She said the team has worked to build a level of trust with the coaches with their respective styles.

“There’s constantly new things and terms we’re picking up on,” Braun said. “Whatever they want, you take it and you’re like, ‘Alright, let’s see what happens.’”

Head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said she has been emphasizing the importance of taking the fundamentals worked on in practice and applying it to the teams they will see in the regular season.

She said her team can develop a way to execute fundamentals but will need to find a way to adapt their style to the teams they play against.

“You have to have an awareness of what the other team’s big picture is,” Plitzuweit said.

Among the new coaching staff is one many Minnesota basketball fans know: Minnesota Lynx guard Rachel Banham.

Banham, although new to the coaching staff, has been with the Gophers program far longer. She wore the maroon and gold herself from 2011 to 2016 and was selected fourth overall in the 2016 WNBA draft. Banham returned to the Gophers in 2022 where she served as the director of quality control.

Recently, Plitzuweit announced Banham would enter a new role as assistant coach while also continuing in her role as director of quality control.

“Rachel is just this ball of energy,” Plitzuweit said. “She can play against us too, so she can give us a really good look in some of the scenarios.”

Plitzuweit said Banham can talk to the players about what it is like playing basketball at a high level. She described her as someone who “has lived it” and is “still living it.”

The Gophers will field a team of eight Minnesota natives. Part of that group is sophomore Mallory Heyer from Chaska. Plitzuweit said Heyer plays with a great deal of versatility, something she hopes teams will associate with her program both offensively and defensively.

“She is someone we would call in our style of offense a prototype,” Plitzuweit said. “She can really do a little bit of everything.”

Last season, Heyer averaged third in points on the team (10.4 points per game) and second in rebounds per game (7.1). Heyer ranked eighth among rebounders in the Big Ten.

Plitzuweit said Heyer’s strengths as a player involve playing with a high level of intensity on the court. Her goal with Mallory is to push her to be more vocal with the team and become a leader on the court, especially on the defensive end.

“I feel like I lead by example, that’s one of my strengths,” Heyer said. “I’m definitely working on being more of a vocal leader.”

Rebounding has been a big part of Plitzweit’s campaign as head coach. It was not a struggle for the Gophers last season as the team led the Big Ten in combined team rebounds with a 41.9 average per game.

Braun averaged 3.3 rebounds last season and said her defensive abilities are something she and the rest of the team are looking to work on in the coming season under Plitzuweit.

“Coach is really holding everyone accountable to that,” Braun said.

The Gophers will return Niamya Holloway to the floor after she missed the entirety of last season due to a knee injury.

Plitzuweit said Holloway has been playing with a lot of confidence but also is working to get her to play under control.

“Right now, she wants to block every shot and snag every rebound,” Plitzuweit said. “Learning how to play really solid is going to be something she is working on right now.”

All students of the game under Plitzuweit will take the court on Wednesday, Nov. 8 in their first game of the season against Long Island at Williams Arena.

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