Amaya Battle signed her national letter of intent to play for the Gophers on Wednesday morning in the Hopkins High School auditorium. Her dad, Terrell, stood beside her, looking over her right shoulder.
There was joy, certainly. Pride at joining a four-player, homegrown Gophers recruiting class that also includes Wayzata guard Mara Braun, Chaska forward Mallory Heyer and Eden Prairie forward Nia Holloway. Excitement about what lies ahead for both her and the group.
This is a class that, according to at least one outlet — Jr. All Star — is ranked fourth in the country. Not long ago, with some national players yet committed, ESPN had the class ranked seventh. Braun (28), Battle (39) and Heyer (55) were ranked by ESPN's Hoopgurlz, and Holloway was ranked 90th in the country by Jr. All Star.
All four chose to stay home, to be part of a class likely the best in program history. So there was reason for happiness in Chaska, in Eden Prairie, in Wayzata. "This is such a great day for our program,'' Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen said.
In Hopkins, mixed emotions.
Stephanie Battle — Amaya's mom — died on Oct. 26. A native Minnesotan who attended the University of Minnesota, she rooted hard for her daughter to follow here there. According to Terrell, during the recruitment process, she would pull him aside. "She'd say, 'You know what? I think Amaya is going to stay home,' " Terrell Battle said. "She loved Minnesota. She loved the fact Amaya was staying home.''
Her brother, Jamison, has transferred to the Gophers men's team and is playing this season. Amaya Battle grew up a Gophers — and Lynx — fan and wanted to play for Whalen, a fellow point guard. There were many reasons, including her mom.
"I definitely think about her,'' Amaya said. "It was a little bittersweet. She didn't get to see it. But I know she's watching. Her dream was for me to go play at the U, so I'm fulfilling her dream. And I'm going to make her proud. That keeps me happy, keeps me going.''
This is a talented group that has played against each other and knows each other.
Braun, the eighth-ranked point guard in the class by ESPN, is a two-time all-state selection who has averaged 18.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.5 steals in her high school career while shooting 43.6% overall and 40.7% on three-pointers.
Battle, the 11th-ranked point guard in the class, averaged 14.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 3.0 steals as a junior for Hopkins, which has won four straight sectional titles with her on the varsity roster. She's been all-conference four times, all-state last season.
Heyer, the No. 11 forward in the class, has averaged 17.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals in her career at Chaska.
Holloway has averaged 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.7 steals in her high school career, shooting better than 58%.
All of them, including Battle, chose to build something at Minnesota.
"What's so exciting is we're all home-grown,'' Battle said. "We have a chance to do something special here, make Minnesota a place where top recruits want to go.''
For Whalen and her staff, this is a coup. It is also the product of a lot of time getting to know coaches and players in the state. Relationship building. Wednesday, Whalen recalled the first time she watched Battle play. It was 2018, and Whalen was still playing for the Lynx. Battle was in eighth grade. Whalen got to know all four players in this class about the same time. By the time the players were freshmen and sophomores, the bonds formed, Whalen said she started sensing something special happening as the four players also forged friendships.
"They want to win,'' Whalen said. "They are all ultra-competitive. They want to have success. And they know it takes a team. Getting to play with other great players is something they wanted to do. They all come from winning programs, both high school and AAU.''
Battle felt comfortable with the Gophers coaching staff. She saw how happy her brother was at the U. As the other members of this recruiting class announced their decision, she felt a growing excitement, a desire to join them.
"You go to another team that's already successful, it's like you're just another team there, just another player,'' Battle said. "But if you come here, and win — one, you're turning the program around. Two, this is your home state, you'll have a bunch of support. And three, that's something you can carry around for the rest of your life.''