Whalen, Gophers continue to build chemistry with season a month away

The University of Minnesota women’s basketball season is still a month away as Lindsay Whalen opens her fifth season with the Gophers on Nov. 7 against Western Illinois.

The team, after eight weeks of practice over the summer, reconvened in late September to start fall workouts. The Gophers held their seventh practice on Tuesday at Athletes Village, and they’re quest to build chemistry is an ongoing process as just three players are back from last year. Whalen will have five new starters when the season starts. The roster features seven freshmen, and three graduate students.

Minnesota went 15-18 last year, and 7-11 in Big Ten play. Whalen said at least early on, chemistry and work ethic are not an issue.

"It’s a group that is excited to work every single day. Lots of goods, everyday there’s some things of teaching and some things of really good. It’s been a really fun group to be around," Whalen said.

Guard Katie Borowicz of Roseau is one of the three players back from last season. She played in 14 games as an early enrollee two years ago, then missed all of last season after having offseason surgery. She gives Whalen one of three options as a primary ball-handler, along with freshmen Mara Braun and Amaya Battle.

She’s one of 10 Minnesota natives on the roster.

"The chemistry is amazing. Us being able to find each other on the court without playing a lot of months together, it’s been amazing. Energy is great, so I guess just the whole culture of the team has improved from last year," Borowicz said.

Whalen brought in the highest-ranked recruiting class in program history this season. Braun of Wayzata, Battle of Hopkins, Mallory Heyer of Chaska and Nia Holloway of Eden Prairie were all top-100 recruits nationally, and they all stayed home to play for Whalen. Holloway is out for the season after suffering a knee injury during summer workouts.

Braun, Heyer and Battle all look ready for the college game. In a month, they’ll all hit the Williams Arena floor as Minnesota natives playing for the Gophers for the first time.

"My dad has always asked me that, how are you feeling. But I think really once I hit the floor, it’s going to be surreal. It’s going to be pretty cool," Braun said.

The season starts Oct. 30 with an exhibition against UW-River Falls before the season-opener on Nov. 7. Minnesota will host Wake Forest for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Nov. 30, then open Big Ten play at Penn State on Dec. 3.

The Gophers will scrimmage Thursday, and Saturday against their scout team at Williams Arena. Whalen has gotten in the habit of practicing three days straight, taking one day off and finishing the week with a pair of practices. Whalen is 60-57 in four seasons with the Gophers, including 28-44 in Big Ten play. Minnesota has yet to reach an NCAA Tournament under Whalen, but the hope is that could change this season.

Several players transferred after last season, but there’s a new breath of energy with a few key transfers and the top-10 freshmen class.

"They love to be in the gym, they’re really excited to be in the gym and excited to work every day," Whalen said.