The women’s basketball Gophers have a new head coach for the first time in 12 years. Marlene Stollings, who succeeded Pam Borton last April, earned a reputation for turning programs around in her previous stints at Winthrop and Virginia Commonwealth Universities. Matt Nelson (B.A. ’09) of Gopher Sports Update, Minnesota’s multimedia partner, recently interviewed Stollings. Here is an excerpt.
What is your plan for the Gophers?
We don’t have a three– to five–year plan, we have an immediate plan. We’re pretty aggressive in our approach. One of the fundamentals that’s big for me is individual player development. We devote 30 minutes of practice time to player development as deep into the season as January and February; I take that much pride in what we’re doing with that part of practice.
This conference is an absolute beast with the addition of Maryland, a Final Four team, and Rutgers, which won the WNIT. It’s very important that we’re one of the most well-conditioned teams in the Big Ten so we can beat people in the last four minutes of the game. We want to be up and down the floor quickly, but it is an organized system—we have certain looks coming down out of the break, we do some pro stuff in transition, things that will be hard to guard and scout against. We have enough pieces of the puzzle to put that in place right away this year.
Two of the puzzle pieces in place are senior guard Rachel Banham, a consensus first team All–Big Ten and All-American honorable mention guard last year, and sophomore Big Ten Freshman of the Year Amanda Zahui B. Who else?
Shae Kelley, a fifth-year transfer [from Old Dominion, who is pursuing a master’s degree in youth development leadership at the U]. Shae adds a dimension to the system that we didn’t previously have in her athleticism, ability to score, and being able to play the three or the four position for us.
Then you look at Carlie Wagner, the standout freshman. I can’t wait to play her in a game. She can put the ball in the basket at a very high level.
The biggest thing with any of the newcomers, with the exception of Shae being a fifth-year transfer, is the adjustment to college life and the physicality and overall strength and conditioning required at this level. That just takes time. How quickly they’ll have success in their first year depends on how they’re able to adapt and adjust.
What do you have to do to get people back in the Barn and get that place rocking again?
I love it that fans in Minnesota love women’s basketball so much. When you look back at those years when Lindsay Whalen (B.S. ’06) and Janel McCarville were here, people came to the games because they got to watch the show. And it was a show because of how they played and because they were winning. We hope to bring the show back in town. We want to put a team on the floor that’s exciting to watch.
To hear the complete interview with Marlene Stollings, go to www.GopherSportsUpdate.com. The Gophers open the Big Ten season at home against Nebraska on December 29.