Women’s basketball: New Gophers coach wants team to ‘find a way’
Dawn Plitzuweit has a .721 winning percentage across 16 years and replaces Lindsay Whalen, who had a .482 winning mark over her five seasons at the university.
MINNEAPOLIS -- New Gophers women’s basketball coach Dawn Plitzuweit was poised with two buzzwords and one catchphrase for the three tenets of how she wants her teams to play at Minnesota.
Over a nearly three-decade coaching career, Plitzuweit has cultivated an ethos for her program, and she shared it at her introductory news conference Monday. She wants toughness, togetherness and — while it doesn’t roll off the tongue like the first two — a mentality to “find a way.”
Plitzuweit grew up on a farm in West Bend, Wis. Her parents also worked off the homestead, sometimes leaving her and siblings to do the work, including bailing hay or tending to animals, instead of hanging out with their friends.
“Sometimes it wasn’t convenient, lot of times it certainly wasn’t, but you had to find a way to get it done,” Plitzuweit said. “A lot of times things would break down and you had to get (the hay) in before the rain would come. A lot of that is based upon how I’ve been raised.”
Plitzuweit, pronounced PLITTS-zoo-white, has navigated winning programs at all four of her previous head-coaching stops. The 50-year-old has a .721 winning percentage across 16 years and replaces Lindsay Whalen, who had a .482 winning mark over her five seasons at the university.
Gophers Athletics Director Mark Coyle said in early March that Whalen stepped down after finishing at 11-19, 4-15 in Big Ten play last season.
Over the last three weeks, Coyle said he watched Plitzuweit and her West Virginia team as she led the Mountaineers to the NCAA Tournament in her first season as coach of a program in a power conference, the Big XII.
“We felt it was important to find a coach that has won at a high level,” Coyle said. “Obviously we saw what she did at South Dakota when she took them to the Sweet 16 (in 2022).”
Coyle and his search committee moved quickly after West Virginia lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night.
In their first conversation, Coyle used his experience of being Syracuse athletics director for only one year before coming to Minnesota. “The very first word I said to her was, ‘I left a place after one year; it can be done,’” Coyle said. “It’s hard.”
Plitzuweit said leaving after one year was not something she planned on. But she referenced Minnesota’s academic standing, place within the Big Ten Conference, recruiting talent and fan support in the state.
“For me, it’s an opportunity to come home,” Plitzuweit added.
Plitzuweit met Gophers players Saturday night, including over dinner with their families, and shared her first impression of the players on Monday: energetic personalities, hungry, competitive and close-knit.
Star freshman Mara Braun said players tried to show their enthusiasm for Plitzuweit’s hire by writing “ready to get to work” on a board inside their Athletes Village practice facility. That work will start with their first practice Tuesday.
Plitzuweit’s brand of toughness won’t be the first thing instilled in the players. Mallory Heyer said she expects it will start with game video from a coach she described as a “film junkie.”
“Defense probably won’t be (Tuesday), you guys,” Plitzuweit said publicly to her players seated in the third row. “It’s going to be offense (Tuesday). You are going to be happy.”
Plitzuweit admitted she wouldn’t directly answer a question about what the ceiling might be for the program under her leadership.
“I’m not going to answer that the way you want it answered because I’m a very process-driven person,” Plitzuweit said. “We will have expectations, and we will have building blocks. We will have ways we do things every day and let the process take care of the results.”
Coyle was a bit more direct in his answer. “We are really, really confident we got the right coach and the right young ladies here so that our program can start to see some significant success,” he said.
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