Marlene Stollings no longer has to ask directions every time she gets into her car. The Gophers coach got to know the Twin Cities much better over the summer, settling into the community as she enters her second season leading the women’s basketball team.
Thursday, she said she wants fans to get to know her and her team better, too. Stollings is hoping to expand the fan base, with an aim of drawing 10,000 spectators for some games during a season that begins Nov. 13 against Wofford at Williams Arena. The coach was delighted by the reception the Gophers got in her debut season, as they went 23-10, made the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years and re-entered the national rankings.
Her next ambition is to build on that with a team that will look decidedly different. All-America center Amanda Zahui B. left after two seasons for the WNBA, and All-Big Ten forward Shae Kelley made the Lynx after completing her eligibility. But popular guard Rachel Banham — who missed most of last season because of a knee injury — is on the verge of breaking the program’s career scoring record, leading a team that should show greater mastery of Stollings’ up-tempo, crowd-pleasing offense.
“The thing that’s most exciting to me is the way the fan base has embraced us and what we’re trying to do,” Stollings said. “People have said, ‘You know, you’ve electrified the fan base again. You’ve instilled pride back into the program.’ For me, it’s been awesome being embraced by our fans.
“There is a lot of excitement in the air in terms of how are we going to look, how are we going to be different? We’re going to be a lot more guard-dominated this year with the return of Rachel and the loss of Amanda, and that will continue to play into our exciting style of play.”
Banham was hurt in the Gophers’ 10th game last season but received a medical-hardship redshirt. She is 107 points away from surpassing Lindsay Whalen’s career scoring record of 2,285 points. The Lakeville native is a preseason All-Big Ten selection and made espnW’s preseason list of the top 25 players in the nation.
Five players left the program during or after the season, leaving only six returnees. Stollings supplemented that core with five newcomers, including junior college transfers Karley Barnes, a 6-3 center, and Kynadi Johnson, a 6-1 forward. Other Gophers rookies include two freshmen — Annalese Lamke, a 6-3 center, and Danielle Garven, a 6-1 forward — and 6-3 sophomore center Jessie Edwards of Australia.
Guard Allina Starr of Minneapolis transferred to the U from Auburn last fall and will become eligible to play at the end of the fall semester. Another guard from Minneapolis, Kenisha Bell, transferred from Marquette and is practicing with the team but must sit out the entire season.