Heart and Soul

by Jim Burke
Early Spring 2004

Heart and Soul: The Gophers' Janel McCarville steps up her game as the University of Minnesota makes its first ever trip to the Women's Final Four.

If Lindsay Whalen is the heart of the Gopher Women’s basketball team, the case can be made that Janel McCarville is the soul. The 6-foot-2 junior center is a selfless team player that is not afraid to do the dirty work down low. She prides herself on her rebounding and defense while being a consistent offensive contributor.

On February 12, the Gophers suffered something of a heart attack when W halen broke her right hand in a game at Ohio State. Suddenly there were question marks at the end of a season where exclamation points were supposed to be. With Whalen’s post-season availability in doubt and the NCAA Tournament set to begin on March 21, the Gophers are going to need even more production from the woman in the middle.

Janel hasn’t snuck up on anybody. As a high school senior, the Stevens Point native shared 2001 Wisconsin Player of the Year honors with Misty Bass who now plays for Duke. In 2002, she became the first Gopher to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. McCarville was an All-Big 10 selection last season, and she was the third leading rebounder in the conference while averaging 12.8
points per game.

This season has been more of the same for McCarville; at or near the top of the Big 10 in rebounding, blocked shots, and steals while boosting her scoring average up to 15 points per game and solidifying herself as the team’s anchor on both ends of the floor. Prior to Whalen’s injury, she and Janel had become one of the most potent one-two punches in the conference.

Janel believes that defense and rebounding are her strengths. "I have the desire to go up and get the ball and work on the boards and there are a lot of great post players in the Big 10, so I have to be on top of my game defensively. The team really needs those things from me.”

Having a center who is committed to rebounding and defense is every coach’s dream but with the team’s top scorer possibly out for the season, Coach Pam Borton asked Janel to pick up some of the offensive slack. "Janel has to be a consistent, double-digit scorer. She is already a dominant force defensively and on the boards. She has to be more of a scorer at this point than maybe she has been.” Janel understands, "Personally, I’d rather have a big rebounding night with a few blocks and some steals, the intangible things. The coaches talk about my scoring presence and I do need to become more of a scorer."

photo by Marilyn Indahl

Borton says that the intense physical play in the paint that typifies tournament basketball will put even more pressure on her center. "We need Janel to be a go-to player inside and somebody that other teams have to reckon with." Whalen has no doubt that Janel is up to the task. "Janel has gotten a lot stronger and more physical inside. She has risen to every challenge this year. She’ll be ready for the tournament. She lives for games like that."

The importance of having such an effective player in the post is not lost on Lindsay Whalen. "I think any guard thrives with a strong center. Having Janel inside is huge. We can rely on her and she can rely on us. It’s a good inside-outside combination."

Janel has learned to take advantage of opposing defenses obsessed with stopping Whalen, "Everyone always has an eye on Lindsay when she has the ball in her hands because she can cause such havoc. When defenses try to contain her it frees me up." With two such consistent scoring threats to contend with, for much of the season opposing defenses were forced to pick their poison. "Lindsay and I compliment each other so well because teams can’t shut us both down."

Up until Whalen’s injury it had been a wonderful season. The Gopher women have been the hottest ticket in town. McCarville loves playing in f ront of huge crowds at Williams Arena. "The crowds are so supportive and really get us up for games. We’re so confident at home. It’s got a cozy feeling for us and it’s intimidating for our opponents." Williams Arena will host the first two rounds of NCAA sub-regional play giving Minnesota the advantage of some additional home cooking. How’s that for cozy?

The once wonderful, then suddenly troubled season can still have a happy ending. In Whalen’s absence, sophomore Shannon Bolden and freshman Kelly Roysland emerged as legitimate scoring options at the guard position. There’s a chance Lindsay Whalen will be ready to return to action in time for the NCAA tournament.

Janel says she and her teammates feel they have a lot of basketball left. "There’s a sense of urgency but it’s under control.,” said McCarville. “We have some great players on this team. We think this could be the best season ever and we want to take advantage of that." As her junior campaign draws to a close, Janel has never had a loosing season as a Gopher. Not even Lindsay Whalen can say that. "I came to Minnesota because I wanted to come to a program where I could make a difference. With Lindsay leading the way, we have."