With March Madness in full swing in college basketball a year after the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to COVID-19, many have tuned in to the opening round of the women’s tournament over the weekend. As 64 teams battle for a shot at a national championship in Texas this year, many current Minnesota Lynx players and coaches were once in those same shoes trying to cut down the nets at the end of the year.
Several members of the Lynx have had some impressive moments at the collegiate level, both players and coaches, and many of them come from historically successful programs that have made deep postseason runs. Here’s a look back at which players and coaches ended up reaching the NCAA Tournament and how successful they were during March Madness before turning pro.
Of the 12 players currently listed on the Lynx roster, a total of 11 of them took part in the NCAA Tournament. The only exception on Minnesota’s roster is Damiris Dantas, who never played in the NCAA but instead competed overseas before being drafted into the WNBA.
The list of players who took part in the Big Dance includes Natalie Achonwa (Notre Dame, 2010-14), Rachel Banham (Minnesota, 2011-16), Lexie Brown (Maryland, 2013-15 and Duke, 2016-18), Bridget Carleton (Iowa State, 2015-19), Napheesa Collier (UCONN, 2015-19), Crystal Dangerfield (UCONN, 2016-20), Sylvia Fowles (LSU, 2004-08), Linnae Harper (Kentucky, 2013-15 and Ohio State, 2016-18), Kayla McBride (Notre Dame, 2010-14), Aerial Powers (Michigan State, 2013-16), and Jessica Shepard (Nebraska, 2015-17 and Notre Dame, 2017-19).
Collier and Dangerfield, UConn
Collier and Dangerfield have had the most success of any Lynx players in the NCAA Tournament, both reaching at least the Final Four in each of their four seasons at Connecticut.
Collier was able to win a national championship in 2015-16 before she and Dangerfield were teammates from 2016-19 and led the Huskies to the Final Four in each of those seasons.
Achonwa, McBride, and Shepard, Notre Dame
Both Achonwa and McBride helped lead Notre Dame to three appearances in the championship game in 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2013-14, falling in that title game each season. During the 2012-13 year, the Fighting Irish also advanced to the Final Four and came up short of playing in the national championship.
Speaking of Notre Dame, Shepard was part of two seasons of deep runs in the NCAA Tournament after transferring from Nebraska, taking part in the national championship Fighting Irish team in 2017-18 and following that up with a runner-up finish in 2018-19.
One of the most dominant post players in college basketball during her career prior to turning pro, Fowles was a part of some really talented LSU teams that made multiple NCAA Tournament runs.
Fowles helped lead the Lady Tigers to the Final Four in each of her four seasons in purple and gold but failed to make it to the national championship game.
Before Banham arrived at Minnesota in 2011, the Gophers hadn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2008-09. Banham helped Minnesota get back to dancing during the 2014-15 season when the team appeared in the tournament but was bounced in the opening round.
Banham also helped the Gophers take part in the WNIT in three other seasons before turning pro.
Brown, Maryland and Duke
Brown was part of four-straight NCAA Tournament teams, the first two at Maryland and the final two at Duke.
With the Terrapins, Brown advanced to the Final Four in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, falling in that semifinal game each year. Brown finished her collegiate career with the Blue Devils, reaching as far as the second round in 2016-17 and the Sweet Sixteen in 2017-18.
Harper, Kentucky and Ohio State
Like Brown, Harper appeared in the NCAA Tournament in all four seasons of her collegiate career, first for two seasons at Kentucky and then two more at Ohio State.
With the Wildcats, Harper was part of teams that advanced as far as the Sweet Sixteen in 2013-14 and the second round in 2014-15, later making appearances in the Sweet Sixteen with the Buckeyes in 2016-17 and rounding her career with a second-round appearance in 2017-18.
Powers, Michigan State
During her three-year career in the Big Ten with Michigan State, Powers and the Spartans appeared in two NCAA Tournaments, winning one game in each of those seasons.
At Michigan State, Powers and the Spartans reached the second round of the tournament in the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons.
Carleton, Iowa State
During her four-year career at Iowa State, Carleton and the Cyclones reached the NCAA Tournament twice, failing to get beyond the second round in each of those two appearances.
As a sophomore in 2016-17, Carleton and Iowa State exited the tournament in the opening round. As a senior in 2018-19, the Cyclones won a game but were bounced in the second round.
Not only is the Lynx coaching staff full of individuals who have impressed at the professional level, but the all-female staff also thrived in college before joining the program.
- Minnesota head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve played four seasons at La Salle spanning from 1984-88. The Explorers appeared in the NCAA Tournament in her final three seasons, falling out of the tournament in the first round all three years.
- Assistant coach Katie Smith, who played at Ohio State from 1992-96, was part of a Buckeyes team that reached the NCAA national championship game in 1992-93, finishing as runners-up in that game to champion Texas Tech. As a senior in 1995-96, Smith also helped Ohio State reach the second round of the tournament.
- Assistant coach Plenette Pierson, who played collegiately for Texas Tech from 1999-2003, appeared in the NCAA Tournament all four seasons. The Red Raiders advanced to the quarterfinals in both the 1999-20 and 2002-03 seasons and the Sweet Sixteen in both 2000-01 and 2001-02.
- Assistant coach Rebekkah Brunson, who played at Georgetown from 2000-2004, never appeared in the NCAA Tournament but reached the WNIT during her freshman and junior seasons.