Maggie Czinano still has the goggles.

She doesn't wear them, not any more, something she's thankful for every day. They're back at the apartment she and Katie Borowicz share near the University of Minnesota campus as a reminder how difficult things were, and how promising they are now.

Czinano is a sophomore on the Gophers women's basketball team. She is one of three returnees — the others are Borowicz and Rose Micheaux — from last year's squad. She is coming off a strong summer and is in the midst of a strong training camp. She's likely to figure strongly in coach Lindsay Whalen's rotation when the season starts early next month.

"I feel like a completely different player this year,'' Czinano said.

Likely because she's healthy.

Last year was a litany of injures and illnesses for Czinano, a 6-0 wing from Watertown-Mayer, which resulted in just nine appearances.

In the team's first practice last year, she sprained her ankle badly, putting her out three months. As she was about to return, she got a bacterial infection in her left eye that nearly rendered it blind.

Wearing those blasted goggles, she was about to return when she turned her ankle again. Then she got a flulike illness that lingered for weeks.

You get the idea.

It was not how things were supposed to go. Czinano's hope was to get on the court when the Gophers played Iowa, where her sister — Iowa's all-conference center, Monika — played. Instead, she and Borowicz, also out for the season following skull surgery, bonded together in the weight room.

"It was just me and her,'' Czinano said. "We were out at the same time, sitting on the bench together during games. We went over film we weren't even in. Now she's one of my best friends. We bonded, for sure, through the injuries last year.''

And so much has changed. Borowicz is poised to be the team's starting point guard. Czinano? More minutes, a bigger role. And, with Monika having come back for her fifth season with the Hawkeyes, that adds to the anticipation of the Gophers' game at Iowa Dec. 10. Monika and Maggie are as tight as sisters can be. So, naturally Maggie dreams of taking her sister to the rim, and Monika of blocking that shot.

Czinano has added muscle, the result of all that time in the weight room. As her health has improved, her confidence has soared, too. At Big Ten Conference media days, Borowicz was asked about the most pleasant surprise on the team so far.


"Well, it's not a surprise, but I'm happy with how Maggie has come along,'' Borowicz said. "In her confidence, in her game. I know what she's capable of.''

And Czinano knows it, too.

More of a spot-up shooter last year, she has been attacking the rim, finishing, in practice. As her confidence has grown, she has become more of the player she was in high school. Moving without the ball, cutting, attacking.

"I was a big driver in high school,'' she said. "I didn't start shooting the three until my junior year. So that was my game, and I'm finally back to that. I've found my rhythm.''

Here, perhaps, are a couple of reasons:

With the roster down to three before Whalen and her staff started rebuilding the roster with incoming freshmen and transfers, Czinano, Borowicz and Micheaux got the undivided attention of the coaching staff. We're talking intense one-one-one coaching.

And then, as the roster began filling out and the new players started working out over the summer, Czinano sensed a much different vibe. This team was closer than last year's was. There was more support.

Czinano was healthy, and a year older.

"A lot of players take that leap freshman to sophomore years,'' Whalen said. "And she has worked hard. She's been in the weight room. She has taken care of her body. And she's playing well, which is exciting. Now she has confidence, too. She's attacking, putting it on the floor, making plays. She moves the ball. She's got a chance to have a big impact on this team this year.''

Talk to Czinano long enough, listen to her relentless optimism, and you get the feeling those goggles back home must have had rose-colored lenses.

At the conference's media days, Monika Czinano said that one of her biggest goals playing college basketball was to play against her sister. Over the summer, working out together, the two sisters talked about it constantly.

"It was devastating last year not to have that opportunity to play against her,'' Czinano said. "I'm so glad she's coming back for a fifth year. Early December, I'm excited.''