After the Gophers announced the hiring of Dawn Plitzuweit as women's basketball coach Saturday, one of the best players she's ever coached explained why it was such a good move.
Plitzuweit changed Hannah Sjerven's life.
Sjerven, the former Rogers star, started her college career at New Mexico before transferring to South Dakota. There, under Plitzuweit's coaching, Sjerven went to three consecutive NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet 16 last year.
From there Sjerven went pro and Plitzuweit went to West Virginia.
"When I went [to South Dakota], I wasn't the player who was drafted by the Minnesota Lynx," Sjerven said. "I was more like a Division II player. She turned me into the player I became."
This is why Sjerven is so excited that the Gophers hired Plitzuweit away from West Virginia. She knows the kind of culture her former coach can build. She has seen Plitzuweit deftly walk the line between pushing her players to the limit while remaining firmly in their corner.
The Gophers signed Plitzuweit, 50, to a six-year contract worth $800,000 per year in base salary, pending Board of Regents approval. She replaces Lindsay Whalen, who had a five-year run before athletic director Mark Coyle announced the coaching change March 2, one day following the end of an 11-19 season.
The Gophers scheduled a news conference to introduce Plitzuweit for Monday.
"This is a homecoming of sorts, and Minnesota is a program that I am very familiar with from my previous time in the surrounding area and in the Big Ten," Plitzuweit said in the news release. "I am looking forward to getting back to the area and to meet the team, alumni and fans. I am also looking forward to reconnecting with local high school and club coaches. I can't wait to get to work."
'A slam dunk'
The Mountaineers went 19-12 in Plitzuweit's one season there, 10-8 in the Big 12. Their season ended Friday with a 75-62 loss to Arizona as a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament.
In Plitzuweit, a former Division II All-America player at Michigan Tech, the Gophers are getting a combination of an experienced coach with a successful résumé who is also well-established in the Minnesota recruiting scene.
"I think it's a slam dunk," Prep Hoops recruiting analyst Grant McGinnis said. "She has relationships with AAU people, with the high school people. She's really well-respected in the basketball community.
"I would bet that every Minnesota kid on the Gophers roster now has been recruited by her at some point. She will hit the ground running."
Plitzuweit (pronounced PLITTS-zoo-white) has a 365-141 career record as a head coach in two NCAA divisions and four schools. In 16 years as a head coach, she has led her teams into the postseason in every year but one — not counting the 2019-20 season, when her South Dakota team went 30-2 only to have the NCAA tournament canceled because of COVID-19. She coached Grand Valley State to a Division II national championship in 2006.
Hit the ground running? Plitzuweit was scheduled to get to Minneapolis on Saturday for a meeting with Gophers players, and there was talk she was heading to watch the girls basketball state championship games at Williams Arena.
Before that she was already reaching out to local AAU programs. She called Nick Storm, founder and co-director of the Minnesota Fury. She reached out to North Tartan AAU director Bill Larson, who was vacationing in Rome.
"FaceTime in Rome," Larson said. "Not a bad start."
Wins at each level
Plitzuweit, a native of West Bend, Wis., was 158-36 in six seasons at South Dakota, going 83-10 in Summit League play. The Coyotes won 28 or more games in four of her six seasons there, winning three regular-season conference titles and three conference tournament titles. She was named Summit Coach of the Year three times.
Plitzuweit then signed a five-year, $3 million contract with West Virginia. According to BlueGoldNews.com, which covers West Virginia sports, Plitzuweit's contract paid her $550,000 this season, and the Gophers agreed to pay $380,000 for her buyout.
But while there, she became the first coach in program history to make the NCAA tournament in the first year.
She has won at every level, including the D-II national title, NCAA tournament appearances at a mid-major and one year in a Power Five conference.
Plitzuweit was 71-54 at Northern Kentucky in four seasons before moving to South Dakota. Before that, she was associate head coach at Michigan for five seasons, so she knows the Big Ten landscape.
"I am excited to welcome Dawn, her husband Jay and their family to Minnesota," Coyle said in the news release. "Dawn is a process-driven coach and has coached winning teams at every step of her career.
"She has recruited Minnesota and has consistently produced teams that compete for championships. Dawn has Big Ten coaching experience and knows how competitive and strong the conference is."
After playing for Plitzuweit, Sjerven appeared in three games for the Lynx as a third-round draft pick and spent one season in the Australia's Women's National Basketball League. To her, the most important thing is Plitzuweit knows how to get the best out of her players, even if it means pushing those players. Hard.
"Sometimes coaches go over the line, and you see players complain and transfer," Sjerven said. "Other coaches are scared of that and don't know how to push a player. She balances it so well. She got on me a lot in practice, but there was also always a pat on the back. You knew that what she was doing was because she believed in you."
McGinnis attended some practices and games while Plitzuweit was at South Dakota. One gameday stands out. After a morning shoot, the players went upstairs at the arena for lunch.
"They way they sat down, the way they arranged themselves, you couldn't tell which players were the stars, which were bench players, which were walk-ons," McGinnis said. "To me, that's the sign of a great culture. She knows how to build a culture."
The new project
Plitzuweit inherits a Gophers team with the bulk of its scoring expected to return from last season. Minnesota got 47.3% of its scoring last season from freshmen. It appears all four of Whalen's highly touted 2022 recruiting class of Mara Braun, Mallory Heyer, Nia Holloway and Amaya Battle will return.
Former Farmington star center Sophie Hart, who transferred to Minnesota from North Carolina State during the season, has not indicated her plans in the wake of the coaching change. Nor has redshirt freshman Katie Borowicz or sophomore Maggie Czinano. Sophomore center Rose Micheaux announced last week that she is entering the NCAA's transfer portal.
This season, the young Gophers team went 4-14 in Big Ten play. A significant jump next year was a logical expectation from the young group going from their freshman to sophomore seasons. It will be Plitzuweit's job to make sure that happens.
"I couldn't be more pleased," the Fury's Storm said of the move. "If you add a couple pieces in the transfer portal, I think this is a team that can go to the [NCAA] tournament next year."