More than 14 years since she last appeared on the Minnesota Gophers’ sideline, Lindsay Whalen back at her alma matter.
“We’re getting ready, we’re getting excited for that (season opener),” Whalen said at a press conference Tuesday.
Whalen, a 2001 Hutchinson graduate and former Gophers player, takes the court for the first time as the head coach of the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team on Friday, when New Hampshire comes to Williams Arena.
More than a month of practices will have passed by the time the game tips off, and the former Minnesota Lynx guard is ready to get started.
“I’m excited for games,” Whalen said. “In the WNBA we practice for two weeks, and then we play. If you’re overseas it might even be less and then you play, so I’m excited.”
The Gophers sold out all 14,625 seats available for Friday’s contest more than two weeks in advance, putting the game on track to set a new single-game attendance record. Only twice has the women’s basketball team had more than 14,000 fans in attendance at Williams Arena, with the previous attendance record of 14,363 set when Whalen was the team’s point guard in Feb., 2004.
“One of my best memories as an athlete is running out into that atmosphere,” Whalen presviously said about the sold out crowd. “I’m excited our players get to experience that. That should be a lot of fun.”
It’s the first coaching job for Whalen following her 15-year WNBA career that included four championships with the Lynx. With her first month as coach under her belt, Whalen has adapted to her new role on the sidelines rather than on the court.
“I’d probably say just organizing a practice and just getting in here to see what we need to work on day-to-day,” Whalen said about where she’s grown most since her first day. “And I think just having a clear goal every day and a clear mission, and then being able to execute it has been really fun. And it’s been something that I think I’ve learned to do a little bit better over this last month or so.”
During Whalen’s first go-around on campus, she helped direct the Gophers to their first and only Final Four appearance in 2004. It has been almost a decade-and-a-half since then, and the University has since built new athletic facilities, including a new Athlete’s Village. Despite the change in her surroundings, following her first day of practice Whalen insisted that some things haven’t wavered.
“A lot of things are different, but the goal is the same,” Whalen said. “Trying to compete in the Big 10 (Conference), get to the (NCAA) tournament and make some noise.”
She and the Gophers take their first steps down the road to returning to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year come tip-off at 8 p.m. Friday. The game is available to viewers on BTN Plus, a subscription-based online streaming service.
It’s the first in a string of 11 home contests in Whalen’s first 13 games at the helm, as she hopes to translate her professional on-court success to the college coaching ranks in her home state.
“It’s been really fun coaching practice and I think it’ll be even more fun coaching games,” Whalen said. “I know our players are excited, and that’s why you work so hard in practice — to make the games fun and to make them as prepared as possible for the games. So I’m looking forward to it.”