Gophers start summer workouts with top 6 players back

The University of Minnesota women’s basketball team is in its third week of summer workouts on campus, and Dawn Plitzuweit says her team is already in a better spot than it was this time last year.

Plitzuweit was hired in March of 2023 to replace Lindsay Whalen. She had barely had a cup of coffee with her new team before they headed off to a foreign tour. Despite being without their best player in Mara Braun for two months because of a foot injury, the Gophers did enough to earn a WNIT bid, and play for a title. She equated her program to the 1990s MC Hammer song, "Gaining Momentum," which she played last week in practice.

"That stretch allowed us as players to gain momentum and as a program to gain momentum. We learned a lot during that stretch," Plitzuweit said.

It also helps that in a time where change is constant with NIL and the transfer portal, Plitzuweit saw several familiar faces when the Gophers convened for the start of summer workouts. Minnesota returns its top six players from last season, including the core of Braun, Amaya Battle, Mallory Heyer and Nia Holloway.

"It was vital for us. In order for us to move the program forward, to continue to grow, you need consistency. We’re really fortunate to be able to have the quality and the depth and desire of these young ladies to grow this program and move it forward," Plitzuweit said. "We’re really blessed in that way."

Both Battle and Braun all but confirmed Wednesday they turned down bigger NIL opportunities at other schools to return to Minnesota this season. For them, it wasn’t all about money.

"For me, there’s bigger things than that. The loyalty and being able to stay home and play in front of the people I love. I love Minnesota, we love Minnesota," Braun said. "There are those opportunities but for me, that’s just not as important."

"NIL has been crazy. We’re loyal to the Maroon and Gold, there’s nowhere else we’d rather be and no money could really change that," Battle said.

Out of the 15 players on the roster, 11 are Minnesota natives. Former Hopkins star Taylor Woodson came home from Michigan, and former Wayzata standout Annika Stewart did the same after one season at Nebraska.

"It’s exactly what we wanted and kind of what we planned for," Braun said. "We wanted this to be where the best Minnesota players end up, to play for the hometown. Now to have these people coming back and realizing that maybe they shouldn’t have left in the first place is kind of fun for us."

In Year 2 under Plitzuweit, the Gophers’ clear goal is being in the NCAA Tournament. They were on that path last season before Braun’s foot injury. She’s back and healthy.