Lindsay Whalen wins first game as head coach before record crowd

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 13: Lindsay Whalen and Head Coach Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx announce Whalen's retirement at the end of the current WNBA season on August 13, 2018 at the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx Courts at Mayo Clinic Square in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 13: Lindsay Whalen and Head Coach Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx announce Whalen's retirement at the end of the current WNBA season on August 13, 2018 at the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx Courts at Mayo Clinic Square in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Lindsay Whalen’s career change is off to a roaring start.

MINNEAPOLIS—As fans piled into Williams Arena for the Minnesota Golden Gophers Women’s Basketball game vs. New Hampshire, there was one important person missing from the sidelines. The team warmed up alongside assistant coaches Carly Thibault-DuDonis and Kelly Roysland, but first-year head coach Lindsay Whalen was nowhere to be seen. The sold-out crowd of 14,625—a new Minnesota Gophers Women’s Basketball record—would have to wait a little longer to see the one person that a majority of them braved the Minnesota conditions to see.

They weren’t disappointed.

With four minutes before tip, the Gophers appeared back on the court, this time with Whalen, who was dressed in Maroon (of course). She high-fived Goldy the Gopher and talked with New Hampshire head coach Maureen Magarity. Still, you could tell the nerves were crawling up and down her entire body as the clock continued to inch ever closer to 0:00.

“Not too bad,” Whalen said afterwards, following a 70-47 win, when asked if she was nervous. “When I played you had a routine and how you want things to go, so I guess it was just going through it for the first time but I felt pretty good.”

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Before the Gophers starting lineup was introduced, the pre-game video played to try to hype up the crowd prior to the tip. Every glimpse of Whalen brought about a roar of cheers as her serious face swept across the screens above midcourt. Next up was the starting lineups. As the starting five for Minnesota was introduced, each one brought many cheers from the Minnesota faithful.

Then it was Whalen’s turn. A video appeared on the screen showing a blast from the past video of her playing days on the same court where she now stood. The announcer started listing off Whalen’s achievements—of which there are many—ending with the fact that she has the most wins in WNBA history. Finally, Whalen’s name was announced, bringing the fans to their feet as Lindsay waved to familiar faces in the crowd before turning around and waving to the crowd behind the Gophers bench. Did I mention how much Minnesota loves Lindsay Whalen?

Once the game tipped off, Whalen’s nerves seemed to settle as she started calling out plays and talking to her coaches and players on the bench. As expected, Whalen even began mixing in a conversation or two with the officials, something she was known to do throughout her successful WNBA career.

The rest of the first half Whalen really settled into her new role, looking more and more comfortable with each passing minute. She paced up and down the sideline with her hands up, seeming to channel Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve by using her voice to call out screens and when to push the ball up to an open player. While players waited to sub in for a teammate, Whalen talked to them about the next play or set the team was running, always patting players on the shoulder as they went in and out of the game. Onlookers—including a couple recruits in attendance—were quick to see the passion Lindsay has for her players and this team as a whole.

“We are excited about every opportunity and every game that we get to play,” Whalen said. “If it’s home or away, we have a special group so it will be good to get some good momentum at home. In order to have a memorable season you have to win at home.”

The final score—a convincing 70-47 victory for the Gophers—was what Whalen cared about most in her first game as a coach. As always, the Big Ten Conference is as competitive as they come in women’s basketball and the Gophers players know that every win in November is going to matter in March, even the non-conference ones. Whalen was thankful to the fans for coming out after the game, signing autographs and talking on the mic to the Williams Arena crowd.

“That was fun, huh?” Whalen said with a smile as the crowd erupted with cheers.

Minnesota (1-0) travels to Xavier for a Nov. 14 game before playing nine of their next 11 at Williams Arena in front of the home crowd. The home friendly schedule allows Whalen and her coaches to bring in high school recruits to their games before the Minnesota high school basketball schedule is in full swing.

In the meantime, Whalen will try to instill her “#WinningWhay” one “W” at a time.