After the Minnesota Lynx lost to the Los Angeles Sparks on Tuesday night in a one-game WNBA playoff that ended Lindsay Whalen’s playing career, her high school coach sent her a text.
Andy Rostberg wrote: “Congratulations on a great career.” It didn’t take Whalen long to respond: “Hey, thanks coach.”
These days, Rostberg is best-known as the football coach at Hutchinson who succeeded his father, Grady, as leader of the Tigers. Grady coached there for 34 years and Andy is beginning his 20th season. Combined, they have a record of 447-132-1.
Andy also used to coach girls basketball and was Whalen’s head coach throughout her prep career, which ended in 2000.
As a seventh-grader Whalen played on the ninth-grade team. She joined the varsity as an eighth-grader and was a starter from the beginning of her ninth-grade year. She was a four-year all-conference selection but on a statewide level never was chosen higher than honorable mention all-state. And that still bugs Rostberg. (Photo: McLeod County Historical Society.)
“I complained every year,” he said Wednesday. “I said, ‘If you watch this girl you’d go, oh my gosh.’ We never made it to the state tournament where she could showcase herself and people could watch her on TV.”
Whalen’s senior season was marred by an ankle sprain, causing her to miss about half the games. Cheryl Littlejohn, then the coach at the University of Minnesota (a job Lindsay now holds), took a chance on Whalen, and as a Gopher she finally was seen by fans around the state and beyond.
Rostberg can’t remember if he heard from any other Division I coaches, but his discussion with Whalen about the Gophers was brief and to the point.
“I just know it was a quick, ‘Hey, the Gophers would like to offer you.’ And Lindsay said, ‘OK, I’m going.’ ”
Whalen, now 36 years old, left Hutchinson as the school’s all-time scoring leader with nearly 2,000 points. After her senior season, new uniforms were ordered and her number 13 was intentionally left off the order form. Four years later, her number was retired at halftime of a game in Hutchinson with Whalen and her Gophers teammates on hand. Her jersey is now framed inside the school.
During that halftime ceremony, one of the speakers -- school board chairman Dr. Keith Kammrath – said, “You are every kid’s dream and every parent’s pride.”
When Whalen left the Gophers in 2004 she was drafted by the WBNA’s Connecticut Sun. She was traded the Lynx in 2010. Along the way she won four WNBA titles with the Lynx as well as Olympic and world championships with Team USA.
As Whalen’s playing career ended Tuesday night in Los Angeles, her impact on basketball in Minnesota is immeasurable.
“I don’t know if you would have predicted what happened, I don’t think any of us did,” Rostberg said. “I don’t think Lindsay did. But you knew there was something there, that wherever she went she was going to have an impact.”
That impact began when she was a seventh-grader. Normally, the only people in the stands for the ninth-grade games were parents and grandparents. But when Whalen joined the team with players two years older, “All of a sudden our ninth-grade games are packed,” Rostberg said. “Here was this little bobtailed seventh-grader weaving in and out of the ninth-graders, kissing layups off the glass, dishing.”
Weaving, dishing, layups … that’s the Whalen now known by basketball fans all over the world. As she transitions from player to coach, Rostberg has no doubts about her abilities.
“What a great career, and now she gets to start a new journey, being a coach,” he said. “That’ll be all new. That’s just new stuff, new responsibilities, just all new stuff. But I learned a long time ago, don’t bet against her. Just don’t do it. I’m not betting against her.
“One of the things I’ve always noticed with Lindsay, whether she was playing for the Tigers or the Gophers or the Olympic team or the Lynx, the situation at hand was never too big for her. It never overwhelmed her. For some people the situation gets too big. I’ve never seen a situation too big for her, where she hasn’t just handled it. It’s just her. And I’m not thinking anything will change because she’s a coach in the Big Ten.
“The thing Lindsay had was that ability to get the others around her to play. Everybody’s game was elevated when she was there. She brings that out in people. The players she’s coaching, she’ll bring it out in them. There are some good players in Minnesota and you have to be able to recruit. They’ve got the right one to recruit Minnesota.”
The relationship between high school coach and player – even though the player is now a college coach – has never really changed. Texts fly back and forth, and they often are focused on the hometown teams.
“She’ll text,” Rostberg said, “and say, ‘Good luck in the game on Friday.’ ” Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn