It will be a night of firsts Wednesday at Williams Arena. And we're not just talking about the Gophers women's basketball team opening the 2023-24 season against Long Island University.

It will be coach Dawn Plitzuweit's first game as Gophers coach. And while she isn't new to the Barn's elevated floor — she was an assistant at Michigan for five seasons — it will be her first time here as a head coach, in her 17th season.

"It will be interesting to figure out how to communicate with people on the bench," Plitzuweit said Tuesday before practice.

It will be the first time center Sophie Hart will suit up for an NCAA game in nearly a full year. A star from Farmington, Hart went to North Carolina State, played one and a fraction seasons, entered the transfer portal last November, then joined the Gophers.

It will be the first time Nia Holloway will play in college. A star at Eden Prairie, she was part of a highly rated Gophers recruiting class. But a knee injury cost her last season, which she spent watching friends, teammates and roommates Mara Braun, Amaya Battle and Mallory Heyer play extensively as freshmen.

"I'm excited," Battle said. "She's been practicing with us, I want to say, for a month or so. I can't wait to have her back on the floor and playing with her. I can't wait."

So what will fans see? Plitzuweit has drilled the concept of process-driven, incremental improvement; both Battle and Heyer talked about that Tuesday. But specifics? Fans can expect an emphasis on defense, a demand that the team plays with an edge.

"Toughness is that defensive side of things," Plitzuweit said. "But it's also doing the little things well. Taking care of the ball. So can we play with great toughness on every possession? Can we out-tough our opponents in a lot of ways? That's what we're looking forward to."

With the season about to begin, here's a look at the Gophers roster. It remains a youth-dominated group, one that would have been even younger had freshman Kennedy Klick — who had a very strong summer — not been lost for the season because of a knee injury:

Predicted starters

Amaya Battle, 5-11, sophomore (Hopkins)

Played in all 30 games as a freshman, starting 24. Battle averaged 9.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists. Her 133 assists are a freshman Gophers record, and she tied for the team lead in defensive rebounds (150) and blocks (22).

Mara Braun, 6-0, sophomore (Wayzata)

Was the first true freshman since Rachel Banham in 2011-12 to lead the team in scoring (15.6). Braun also led the team in three-pointers made (65) and free throws made (84) and was second with 44 steals. Named to Big Ten All-Freshman team and was a preseason all-conference pick.

Grace Grocholski, 5-10, freshman (North Prairie, Wis.)

Kettle Moraine High School was 91-18 in Grocholski's four years there, with the final two years ending in state titles. A top-100 recruit by ESPN, she averaged 24.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists as a senior. Finished high school career with 2,294 points, 13th most in Wisconsin history.

Sophie Hart, 6-5, junior (Farmington)

Transfer played in 25 games for North Carolina State in two seasons there, including five early last season before entering the transfer portal and, ultimately, choosing the Gophers. Ranked 65th in the nation in the 2021 recruiting class by ESPN.

Mallory Heyer, 6-1, (Chaska)

One of two Gophers players to start in all 30 games, averaged 10.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists while shooting 45.1% from the field. Her five double-doubles were second most on the team, the most double-doubles by a freshman since 2017-18.

Next group

Maggie Czinano, 6-0, junior (Watertown)

Appeared in 29 games with 13 starts last season, averaging 4.9 points and 3.7 rebounds. Had a career high in rebounding (11) vs. Purdue and a career-high 16 points at Maryland.

Nia Holloway, 6-0, redshirt freshman (Eden Prairie)

Missed the 2022-23 season because of a knee injury. A top-100 player in the nation by ESPN, she was part of the all-Minnesota recruiting class that included Braun, Battle and Heyer. Averaged 16.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.9 steals her final year of high school.

Ayianna Johnson, 6-3, freshman (Jefferson, Wis.)

Averaged 16.6 points and 11.5 rebounds her senior year in high school and was named honorable mention all-state. Basketball was one of five sports Johnson played in high school, along with track and field, football, wrestling and golf.

Ajok Madol, 6-2, freshman (Regina, Saskatchewan)

Madol has extensive experience playing for Canada in international competition, most recently being a part of the U-19 team that won bronze at the FIFA World Cup this year.

Janay Sanders, 5-11, grad (Charlotte, N.C.)

Transfer from Appalachian State led her team in scoring (13.5) last season. Also averaged 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game.


McKynnlie Dalan, 6-1, freshman (Montesano, Wash.)

An all-state player in both basketball and volleyball. Dalan's mother Kellie and two of her aunts all played basketball at the University of Washington.

Brynn Senden, 5-6, freshman (Wayzata)

Former high school teammate of Braun, Senden has deep Gophers roots. Her grandfather, Bruce Vandersall, was an assistant coach with the Gophers football team, her mom Kristin helped the Gophers win a national gymnastics championship and father Stuart played hockey at Minnesota.

Amanita Zie, 6-1, senior (Paris)

Injury kept Zie out last season, her first at the U after transferring from Western Nebraska CC. Zie averaged 9.2 points and 8.9 rebounds her last season there, leading all junior college players with a .679 field-goal percentage.