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Hall of Fame Spotlight: Lindsay Whalen

Posted: Monday, April 8, 2024 - 8:02 AM

HOF Class of 2024
Lindsay Whalen Head Shot

Lindsay Whalen

She is known as Minnesota’s Golden Girl of Basketball, a quintessential leader at every level who played every possession with infectious grit, determination and passion that spawned a generation of youngsters wanting to be just like her. In 2004, she galvanized the entire state of Minnesota through basketball while leading the University of Minnesota to a Final Four appearance.

As participation in Girls Basketball continued to rise at a meteoric rate that it is attributed to her influence, her status became legendary when she returned home to lead the Minnesota Lynx to four WNBA championships and helped Team USA to gold medals in the London Games in 2012 and the Rio Games in 2016.

Her name is Lindsay Whalen, but you already knew that.

In fact, she is a one-named legend right up there with Minnesota icons like Bud, Kirby, Harmon, KG and Louie. Like them, she is a Minnesota treasure.

Whalen’s journey started in a very special place. It is where she found the love of sports, the opportunity to play with best friends and a place that provided the foundational tools for life success. Creating a lifetime of memories, growing through athletics, building leadership skills, establishing the cornerstone of moral character and being enveloped by a community that is grateful to call you their own began at home, at Hutchinson High School.

She will be among 12 inductees recognized in the Minnesota State High School League’s Class of 2024 on Sunday, April 14 at the InterContinental St. Paul Riverfront Hotel. Whalen is one of four individuals to be recognized in the Athletes category. While Whalen has been enshrined in other halls of fame, she says this recognition is truly special.

“This is where I got my start, this is where dreams are made and the work began,” she excitedly said during a visit to her alma mater in January. “This honor is incredible. It isn’t just about me. It is also for the whole town, the entire Hutchinson community. They have been by my side the entire way.”

In her youth, Whalen was game for any sports in her path. From hockey to baseball to soccer to tennis to running track, she was eager to try, excited to compete and determined to commit to the pursuits that struck a chord. At Hutchinson High School, she played tennis in the fall and ran track in the spring. Sandwiched in between during the winter was hockey. Yes, that is correct. She was on the hockey path before uncovering a love of basketball.

Years later, Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve would often use the analogy that Whalen’s heady play was like having a hockey player in sneakers. Smart, rugged and not afraid to get into a loose-ball scrum, Whalen took an equal amount of pride in doing the little things that don’t appear in a box score that go a long way in helping a team be successful.

“In the sixth grade, she was playing hockey,” said Andy Rostberg, head coach of the Hutchinson High School football team and Whalen’s former head girls basketball coach. “She just had so much natural talent. Add that to a drive and passion that can’t be taught and you had the makings of what could be a very special player and person. Some of us imagined what she might look like on a basketball court. Fortunately, that happened, and boy, were we lucky to be a part of that.”

As a seventh-grader, capacity crowds watched the ninth-grade team that featured Whalen. Attendance became so great, those games were moved to the high school where crowds expanded. That continued through Whalen’s senior season when fans just couldn’t get enough of her dazzling play on both sides of the court.

“It was so fun playing in front of your family, friends and neighbors,” Whalen said. “You could always feel that love and support.”

She finished her prep career with 1,996 career points. Career feats included an 82-game run where she scored in double figures and 21 career triple-doubles. Whalen led the Tigers to three appearances in the section finals, but Hutchinson couldn’t advance to the League’s state tournament. She missed 14 games during her senior season because of a high ankle sprain. Whalen remained a factor from the sideline.

Rostberg believes Whalen was a hidden gem, in part, because she played during an era when the internet and streaming weren’t available, the Tigers didn’t quite make the state tournament, and perhaps, because Hutchinson was in Greater Minnesota and didn’t receive the same kind of media coverage because it wasn’t metro-based.

“There are so many things you remember, from intense practices to horsing around and then having snowball fights,” Rostberg said. “It’s remembering her leadership that includes her coming onto the bus with a bunch of beef jerky and mints because her teammates were hungry. That is the kind of fun stuff that stays with you forever. That’s what makes high school athletics so very special. She did everything the right way. I’ll call it the 'Whalen Way.’”

Rostberg, who quarterbacked Hutchinson to Prep Bowl championships in 1983 and 1984, has led the Tigers to 2012, 2013, 2021 and this last fall. Whalen is one of the team’s biggest fans.

“I love it when Hutchinson does well in all sports,” she said.

The respect and support are mutual. He recalls a story from Whalen’s playing days when she was with the Gophers. A group of Hutchinson student-athletes were presented with an opportunity to visit campus and watch the University of Minnesota Men’s Basketball Team play.

“They said, nope, they weren’t interested,” Rostberg says with a smile. “They wanted to go watch Lindsay play instead.”

Lindsay Whalen Action Shot

Lindsay Whalen, second from right, enjoyed the camaraderie and competition as she unearthed and nurtured her love of basketball while a student-athlete at Hutchinson High School.

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