For the the Minnesota women's basketball team, the 2017-2018 season will be the accumulation of lessons learned.
Minnesota finished with a 15-16 record last year, landing 10th in the Big Ten. With 10 players returning, the Gophers have a team built from experience to showcase what they’ve learned. The Gophers face Lehigh to start the season Nov. 11, where that experience will be in full display.
“I think we got a great schedule, and the fact that we have a lot more upperclassmen this year, and we’re not so young, and everyone has a year of experience under their belts is going to really help us a lot,” said senior guard Carlie Wagner. “They know what to expect, they know what the Big Ten’s like, and I think we’re ready to rock and roll now. We know what it’s all about.”
Wagner, who led the team in scoring last year with 19.1 points per game was recently named to the Preseason All-Big Ten Team. She is looking to elevate her game even more for the upcoming season. After earning two Big Ten Second Team selections, and currently sitting eighth on the all-time scoring list for the Gophers, Wagner has put together quite the career. Still, head coach Marlene Stollings said the best is yet to come for the senior.
“We challenged [Wagner] to become better at reading off of screens and to be better at ball handling in general,” Stollings said. “She’s been very receptive, and she worked really hard this summer, so we have high expectations for her senior year.”
Wagner doesn’t brag about her skills. Instead, she talked about how she wants to assist the team in areas where putting up shots couldn’t help.
“Leadership and experience are a couple things I’ll bring to the table this year,” Wagner said.
With a new season comes new challenges, but maybe just as important, a new identity. The Gophers are starting to figure out what kind of team they are.
Senior center Jessie Edwards will start the season eighth all-time on Minnesota’s block list. She will look to rise up the leaderboard during this season.
“We’re planning on having a really diverse team,” Edwards said. “In previous seasons, we’ve been more guard centered, but this year we’re focusing on having a really diverse offense. From posting up inside, three-point shooting and attacking the drive as well.”
Outside of Edwards, the team will bring back senior Bryanna Fernstrom and sophomore Taiye Bello, two centers that played major minutes last season. Together, the trio started a total of 32 games combined. Alongside Wagner in the backcourt, Kenisha Bell, who averaged 16.1 points per game and Gadiva Hubbard, who averaged 12.5 points, make their returns, as the Gophers focus on one area of the court in particular.
“Our team’s definitely focusing more on defense,” Edwards said. “We’re putting in a lot of work. We’re just going back to work, focusing on our footwork, and I think that’s really going to show during the season.”
Edwards said the team’s gelling together even better than last, a sentiment Stollings knows will play a major factor going forward.
“I think what we’re going to see is a more mature team,” Stollings said. “They know what it’s like now. Last year, it was brand new to them going into those environments, playing at Maryland, and Ohio State and Michigan State, three of the top teams in our conference last year. They know what to expect now.”
With her last season coming up soon, Wagner wants the team to understand one thing before she leaves.
“Don’t take anything for granted,” Wagner said. “You never know when your last game might come.”