Her coach and this reporter both watched Leah Cotton’s growth over her four years at Minnesota from a happy-go-lucky freshman to a fully confident young woman in her senior year. “It’s fun to watch her grow as a person, and it’s been really rewarding to see where she’s come from,” noted Gopher Coach Pam Borton last week.
It wasn’t always pretty watching Cotton, however — she had a penchant for making silly fouls. She sometimes got her foot stuck on her energy accelerator. Yet you never saw the 5-8 senior guard from Kansas City, Kansas back down from her challenges.
“Personally, I wished I could’ve done better,” she told me after her two points in a 12-minute performance on Senior Night last Thursday, the Gophers’ final home game of the season.
Always a team player, any disappointment she may have had was short lived: “I was so proud of our junior class — they came out and took care of business very well. There’s absolutely no sadness or remorse — I take it,” admitted Cotton, referring to her team’s eight-point win over conference-leader Penn State.
“Leah always has a smile on her face and plays with so much passion and energy every day at practice and during games,” said Borton.
The Gophers (7-9, 18-12 overall) go into the 2013 conference post-season tournament this week on a modest two-game winning streak. Minnesota plays Ohio State in first-round action Thursday evening (6 pm) in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
Both Cotton and Borton like their chances.
“All season long we knew that we have a good team,” Borton pointed out. “When this team shows up…, when everybody shows up and does what they can do, we have a great basketball team.”
“At times we don’t know what team is going to show up and play, and that is frustrating for everybody,” concurred Cotton.
Last week, Cotton wore the Maroon and Gold in Williams Arena for the last time as an active player — she graduates this spring with a degree in family social services. She hopes that Gopher fans are left with a lasting impression of her as “a fun-loving person.
“I love to have fun and leave my heart on the floor. I don’t necessarily want to be known for my stats, [but] mainly that I was a person with a big heart on the floor, and one who was very prideful and took ownership in everything I did. Most of all, [that I] had fun and [was] always smiling,” she said.
“I don’t know if I ever have been around anybody who’s been so passionate and plays with so much heart,” concluded Borton on Cotton. “She has been such a happy person.”
Breaking news: As we go to press, we learn that Leah Cotton has been named “Minnesota’s recipient of the Big Ten’s Sportsmanship Award,” according to a U of M press release. “Recipients are student athletes who have distinguished themselves through sportsmanship and ethical behavior. In addition, they must be in good academic standing and have demonstrated good citizenship outside of the sports competition setting.”
March on ice
March madness started here in earnest last weekend — but in hockey, not in hoops.
“It’s going to be an exciting time here in Minnesota at Ridder Arena in March,” proclaimed U of M Women’s Hockey Coach Brad Frost. The arena will host the WCHA Final Face-off this weekend, the NCAA quarterfinals March 16, and the 2013 Women’s Frozen Four March 22 and 24.
The Gophers improved to 36-0-0 after they twice blanked Bemidji State last Friday and Saturday in the WCHA tourney first round and advanced to this weekend’s WCHA Final Face-off.
This team has logged 42 consecutive wins over two seasons and outscored their opponents at least by four goals a contest. They have four players up for player-of-the-year consideration, and later this month they have a very good opportunity to defend the championship they won a year ago on their home ice. They have a goaltender, senior Noora Raty, who has stood on her head for all but three of the 19 shutouts this season.
“I think we’ve been playing rock solid in our D-zone all year,” said Frost.
Yet Minnesota men’s hoops gets all the attention: There were only a half-dozen or so reporters at Ridder who covered last Saturday’s 8-0 Gopher win, less than half of the contingent at the contest played at the Barn across the street earlier that afternoon.
“We clinched the WCHA regular season championship four weeks ago,” explained Frost in a brief interview with the MSR last Saturday. “Now, with the playoffs, we’ve gotten another lift because we are playing for another trophy.”
As for being overlooked while discriminatory sports fans overdose on men’s hoops, Frost said, “I think we’re getting more coverage. It’s taken us a lot of wins in a row to get that.”
Did you know…?
How many national title banners have the Gopher women pucksters lofted in their arena? (Answer in next week’s “View.”)
Answer to last week’s “Did you know?”: Clarence “Fats” Jenkins as a teenager played opposite this player at the other forward spot on the St. Christopher Club team. Who is he? Paul Robeson, who went on to play in college before pursuing a legendary acting and singing career.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]
To see more stories by Charles Hallman click HERE