Hawkeye fans were once again treated to another exciting season of women’s basketball in 2005-06 and the outlook for 2006-07 looks even brighter.
Last season Head Coach Lisa Bluder orchestrated one of her best years of coaching, with a team tied for 15th in the nation with the most underclassmen on its roster. Bluder guided Iowa to a fifth place finish in the Big Ten and a NCAA Tournament berth.
Last year’s success coupled with experienced talent returning garnered Iowa a pre-season ranking of 24th by Lindy’s, a pre-season publication.
Iowa returns 10 letterwinners, including three starters, from last year’s squad that collected 10 league victories. Although the Hawkeyes return three starters, the loss of honorable mention all-America honoree Crystal Smith, who averaged 17.2 points and 2.4 steals, to graduation will be a challenge.
“Replacing Crystal will be a tough task because she did so many things for our basketball team,” said Bluder. “She did a lot for us defensively; her quickness is a hard aspect to replace and also her ability to score in a number of ways. It’s going to have to be a team effort to replace Crystal.”
In addition to Smith’s role, Iowa’s success last year mainly hinged on the performance of its freshmen after numerous injuries plagued the team’s bench. The freshman class stepped up in a huge way, accounting for 42.5 percent of its offense and lifting Iowa to success in 2005-06.
Two of the three returning starters are sophomores and play two of the most pivotal positions on the floor – point guard and center. Kristi Smith played in every game and started as floor general in 21 games. Megan Skouby also played in every contest and started 18.
Skouby was the top newcomer in the Big Ten in 2005-06, as the 6-6 center was honored as consensus Freshman of the Year. The native of Mentor, OH, also earned second team all-league laurels and was named to the Women’s Basketball News Service’s all-America Freshman team.
Skouby averaged 14.3 points in all games, including a team-best 16.8 points during conference play. She posted double figures 23 times, including the final 16 contests and led the Hawkeyes in scoring 12 of the last 16 contests.
Bluder believes Skouby had one of the best freshman campaigns in Iowa history, but also believes she can get even better.
“We challenged Megan with working on rebounding and defense in the off-season,” said Bluder. “Obviously, she was a tremendous offensive threat last year. She was our best field goal percentage shooter, has good range for a player of her size and runs the floor well. We really believe that a player her size should be averaging more rebounds than she did last year.”
Smith dished out an Iowa single-season freshman record 82 assists and averaged 7.1 points. Not only did she do a tremendous job of distributing the ball and scoring, but she also limited her turnovers, ranking eighth in Big Ten assist/turnover ratio (1.31). The 5-6 guard raised her game to a new level down the stretch, posting double figures five of the last nine games.
“I thought Kristi had a fabulous freshman year. To be the starting point guard for a Big Ten team that makes the NCAA Tournament speaks volumes. Not only can she distribute the ball well, but she can also score. I think Kristi’s going to have a great career and knowing that we have her coming back for three more seasons is a very good feeling.”
Head Coach Lisa Bluder
“I thought Kristi had a fabulous freshman year,” said Bluder. “To be the starting point guard for a Big Ten team that makes the NCAA Tournament speaks volumes. Not only can she distribute the ball well, but she can also score. I think Kristi’s going to have a great career and knowing that we have her coming back for three more seasons is a very good feeling.”
Iowa’s third returning starter has been a mainstay in the post for two years. Power forward Krista VandeVenter returns for her junior season after an honorable mention all-Big Ten campaign. Last season, VandeVenter averaged 8.9 points and a team-best 8.2 rebounds. A team co-captain, VandeVenter looks to continue her defensive dominance and improve her offensive game.
“Krista’s done such a great job rebounding, defensively and running the floor,” said Bluder. “We want her to have more confidence shooting the ball and taking more shot opportunities. Once Krista sees herself in that role I think that will help. I believe she understands the importance and wants to become more of an offensive-minded player.”
VandeVenter has pulled down 489 rebounds her first two seasons and is on pace to break Iowa’s career rebounding record.
“I believe her best years are ahead of her, she’s going to continue to improve in her last two years,” said Bluder. “When I addressed this with her, that she can become the all-time leading rebounder at Iowa if she continued at her present rate, Krista said that `you can count on it’ and I love that attitude.”
The loss of Crystal Smith and Tiffany Reedy means Iowa needs to fill the void of two starting positions. Reedy’s wing position will likely be filled by sophomore Wendy Ausdemore, while Lindsey Nyenhuis and Jenee; Graham are the front runners to take over at off guard.
Ausdemore had a solid freshman campaign as a reserve, scoring 6.8 points per game and averaging 2.6 rebounds. Ausdemore also excelled at the foul line, shooting a blistering 95 percent. The native of Neola, IA, was forced to play both small and power forward last year due to injuries, but Bluder looks for her to focus solely on the wing position this season.
“Last year she was backing up both positions and I think that’s a tough situation for a freshman to do because the positions are so different,” said Bluder. “This year I’m hoping she really excels at the small forward position.”
Nyenhuis played sparingly as a freshman, playing in 14 games, averaging 2.1 points. Graham was hampered with injuries last season, but came on strong near the end once she was healed. Graham played 19 games, averaging 2.0 rebounds last year.
“I am very excited for the start of the 2006-07 season because of the way our team grew throughout last year’s season and overcame many adversities, and finished in the tournament. I am looking most forward to going to New York and growing as a team.”
Sophomore Wendy Ausdemore
“Lindsey’s able to put the ball in the hole and you love that as a coach,” Bluder said. “She had a year to learn and a year to work with our strength and conditioning program to become a better athlete to be able play the type of defense that is required in the Big Ten.”
“Jeneé has good size and is a tremendous defensive player with good anticipation skills and long arms,” Bluder said. “She has tremendous potential to be a big part of our team this year; I just wish she can catch a break physically.”
Other Hawkeyes who will play an important role in the success of this year’s team are Abby Emmert and Zoraa Quoie at the guard positions and Stacy Schlapkohl and Nicole VanderPol in the front court. Iowa may also regain the services of senior Johanna Solverson, who suffered her second ACL injury last summer. If Solverson’s rehab is on schedule, she may join the team in late January or early February. If not, she might qualify for a sixth year of eligibility.
Emmert has two years of playing experience under her belt. The native of Winterset, IA, averaged 3.1 points and 2.0 assists last year. Quoie is Iowa’s lone freshman and is rehabbing her second ACL injury, which she sustained last March. The coaching staff is hopeful she returns by the start of the season.
“Zoraa’s a superior athlete,” said Bluder. “We have to hope that we get her knee completely healed and that she can come back to the player that she was and get even better.”
Like Quoie, Schlapkohl and VanderPol are coming off an injured past. Schlapkohl was Iowa’s starting center the first 11 games last year before suffering an ACL tear its last non-conference game and missing the rest of her sophomore year. The team co-captain averaged 6.9 points and 3.8 rebounds while in the lineup.
VanderPol suffered a partial tear to her MCL last January and missed most of the conference season. While on the court, the native of Grundy Center, IA, averaged 2.6 points and 1.9 rebounds in 18 games.
Bluder believes the rotation of Skouby, VandeVenter, Schlapkohl and VanderPol will be a formidable force in league play.
“I think we are going to have a dominating front court and we’ll use the size to our advantage,” Bluder said. “I believe our bigs should be among the best in the Big Ten.”
Bluder likes the experience of her squad, but feels the team’s Achilles heel this season will be its lack of depth and proven 3-point shooting.
“Due to injuries we will lack the depth that we had in past years. Also, we need to have that proven 3-point threat that we had in Crystal and Tiffany last year.”
“I am very excited about the potential our team has for the 2006-07 season. I think we have the opportunity to compete at a very high level this season, and it will be fun to see how everything plays out.”
Junior Krista VandeVenter
The Hawkeyes led the Big Ten in scoring (72.3) last year and Hawkeye fans can expect more of the same in 2006-07.
“I think our team enjoys getting down the floor and scoring,” said Bluder. “We have big athletes that can get down the floor and that’s a nice asset to have as well in playing that up-tempo style.”
Bluder likes to challenge her basketball teams and this year will be no different as an even more challenging schedule awaits the Hawkeyes. Iowa has the potential to play 16 teams who played in the postseason, including eight in the NCAA Tournament.
“Our non-conference schedule will once again be difficult as it includes games at Rutgers and UW-Green Bay, and hosting Louisiana Tech, Iowa State and Indiana State,” Bluder said. “We are definitely challenging ourselves with this schedule and we’re fortunate that our young players got a lot of playing experience last year. I think that will help them prepare them for this situation.”
In addition to a demanding non-conference schedule, Iowa’s conference slate looks to be one of the toughest in the league.
“This is definitely one of our toughest conference schedules we’ve ever had since I’ve been at Iowa, Bluder said. “Having to play everybody in our conference that finished in the top five last year twice and only getting the opportunity to play four teams (Northwestern, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan) in the lower-division once will definitely make it a challenging league schedule.”