Women's Hoops Only Two Months Away

Sept. 5, 2006

Head Coach Lisa Bluder sat down with hawkeyesports.com and offered a little insight towards the upcoming 2006-07 season. Below is a transcript of the conversation.

What are your thoughts on opening the season one week earlier?
I have mixed feelings on opening the season one week earlier this year. I always like the time leading up to the season because that’s the time we really teach our players and once the games start the season goes so quickly. I think it’s an excellent tournament we’re in and I think that the competition (Missouri State, Kansas, Seton Hall) will be great. I’m not quite sure yet if I’m in favor of having these extra games. I think that I just enjoy the teaching part quite a bit.

Another challenging non-conference schedule awaits, talk about playing five Valley teams and having to play all the Big Ten league favorites twice?
This is definitely one of our toughest conference schedules we’ve ever had since I’ve been at Iowa. 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 in the lower-division once will definitely make it a challenging league schedule. 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. We are definitely challenging ourselves with this schedule and we’re fortunate that our young people got a lot of playing experience last year and I think that will help them prepare them for this situation.

Is there a little revenge factor in the Louisiana Tech game, knowing you had that game at their place under control until they implemented a full court press?
I think playing Louisiana Tech at home this year will definitely be a revenge game for us this year. To lose a game in double overtime is gut wrenching enough, but we had a significant lead, too many turnovers and missed crucial free throws down the stretch and kind of gave the game back to them. When you play on the road, you never have a big enough lead. I think that was a valuable lesson that we learned at Louisiana Tech. I know we are anxious to have a team with this much tradition come to our floor and have the opportunity to play against them again.

What was it like having Vivian back last year and what will it be like going to their place this year?
It’s always great when you go into an opponent’s home court that’s in the top 10 in the country. When you are playing against teams of that caliber outside of your conference, then play a number of them in the Big Ten, that gives your own team credibility. I believe it gives your team a sense of feeling that we can compete against these teams. I think it makes our players understand the level we want our basketball program to elevate to when we play against the best in the country. Vivian is a huge part of the tradition at Iowa and this year she was inducted into the Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame. It was wonderful having her here in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and I know she is looking forward to having the Hawkeyes in her backyard this year.

What will this year’s team need to replace in what Crystal Smith had last year?
Replacing Crystal will be a tough task because she did so many things for our basketball team. She did a lot for us defensively; her quickness is a hard aspect to replace and also her ability to score a number of ways. It’s going to have to be a team effort to replace Crystal. We don’t have with the speed or defensive intensity of Crystal at this time. I believe we have people that have potential to become Crystal-like players. I believe one of our incoming recruits, Zoraa Quoie, has that type of athletic ability and potential; depending on how her rehab comes along will determine how quickly she can assume that type of role (torn ACL). But until that happens, it really is going to be a team effort to replace that impact Crystal had on our team. I believe we have some tremendous leaders on our team.

Your team suffered another ACL injury during the summer, talk about how Jo’s loss affects the potential starting lineup and rotation?
We were really excited about Jo (Solverson) coming back this year. She looked really good this summer, she was playing well, she was playing with a tremendous amount of confidence and she’s our only senior. When you lose that senior leadership, it’s critical enough, but also losing Jo’s athletic abilities and her versatility is another thing. She has the ability to play so many positions on the floor. Her injury hurts our depth. With Zoraa’s unknown status and the loss of Jo, we don’t have a lot of depth in our guard positions. That’s something we’re concerned about.

If Solverson”s rehab goes smoothly, are you looking at her returning in February or applying for a sixth year?
We’re playing it both ways right now. It’s a decision we don’t have to make right now, we just have to see how her rehab plays out. If the rehab goes well and she can come back and play in the Big Ten season, we’d welcome her back because I believe she can really help us during that really difficult league season and post-season. If we get into late February, I think that really becomes a waste of a year and I’d rather her try to apply for a sixth year of eligibility at that point.

If she does comeback in the middle of conference season, how do you think that would affect team chemistry?
It could affect team chemistry, but at the same time I think that if you are aware of it and prepare the team and she’s around the team all the time, I don’t think it will really affect the chemistry too much. If someone is part of the team, travels, is around all the time and part of the family, it really doesn’t affect the chemistry of getting along, working together or team work. You worry about it when you insert someone and playing time changes and you have to have players ready that playing time can change when you bring someone in the lineup. But that’s no different than at the beginning of the year when you have new recruits. It’s kind of unusual to have it happen mid-season, but I think everyone has so much respect for Jo and what she’s gone through that they will welcome her back.

Megan Skouby had a sensational freshman campaign, what has she worked on in the off-season to improve her game?
We challenged Megan with working on rebounding and defense in the off-season. Those are the two areas we really wanted Megan to improve on. Obviously, she was a tremendous offensive player last year. She was the best field goal percentage shooter on the team, she’s got good range for a player of her size and runs the floor well. We really believe that a player that is 6-6 should be averaging more rebounds than she did last year. Also, she needs to become more of a defensive presence inside.

With Stacy Schlapkohl returning, would you say that we have one of the best front courts in the Big Ten?
I think we should be among the best in the Big Ten in our front court because we have size and experience. If Krista continues at her present rebounding rate, she will become the all-time leading rebounder in Iowa history.

How well do you think Megan and Krista VandeVenter complement each other?
I think that’s a growing process and I think it will continue to grow the next two years. When you play with someone inside, the more you play with each other, the more that chemistry develops, the more the timing develops, the more that trust develops. I think that’s an ongoing process, but there’s no doubt that Krista becoming a better offensive player will take the pressure off of Megan. And the better Megan becomes as a passer will help Krista get some open shots as well. I think as they improve and grow together and learn to trust each other, that the relationship will continue to blossom.

Krista has been a force defensively her first two years, do you think she has what it takes to improve her offensive game?
She’s done such a great job for us rebounding, defensively and running the floor. We want her to become a more offensive threat. We want her to have more confidence shooting the ball. We want her to become more consistent shooting the ball and taking more shot opportunities. Once Krista sees herself in that role I think that will help. I think when she came in as a freshman she felt like she didn’t need to provide that to our basketball team. Even last year when Megan continued to dominate inside, I don’t feel like she felt like there was a need for her to contribute that way, but as she gets older and more mature going into her last two years, I believe she understands the importance and wants to become more of an offensive-minded player.

Krista is on pace to break the Iowa career rebounding record, provided she stays healthy, do you think she will run that record down?
If I had to bet on Krista breaking Iowa’s career rebounding record, there is no doubt in my mind she will break that record. I believe her best years are ahead of her, she’s going to continue to improve in her last two years and continue to get smarter as far as rebounding angles and staying in the game longer. I love her attitude about it. 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. That belief is what’s going to help her achieve that record.

With the lack of depth at the two position, do you see us playing a lot more zone? And who are the favorites to start at off guard?
Well the favorites to start at the two, right now, are Lindsey and Jenee. Again, Zoraa will join the mix at one time. When we still had Jo, we were thinking about how big we can be in a zone, having Jo at that off-guard position. But I think you’ll continue to see us playing a mixture of defenses between zone and player-to-player.

Who do you see as the team leaders on and off the court?
The team captains this year are Stacy Schlapkohl and Krista VandeVenter and it was voted very high numbers by our team that they wanted those two to be our captains. We also have Wendy Ausdemore and Abby Emmert as our secondary captains this year. Johanna Solverson will also be a leader on our team once she’s back in uniform.

Wendy had a solid freshman year, with the injuries, how many different positions do you think she’ll play this year?
Last year we had her between the wing and the power forward. I’d like to be able to let her focus on just the wing position this year and really make that her position. 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. This year I’m hoping she really takes the small forward position as her thing. Wendy needs to become more consistent offensively and once she accomplishes that and improves her defense, she has the potential to be a really good basketball player.

What are the chances that Nicole VanderPol gets pushed out to the 3-position?
It’s a possibility that Nicole can get pushed out to the three position, it’s something we’ll probably explore as the preseason goes along and maybe even during the non-conference season. She definitely has the shooting range to be able to play out there, but playing defense will be the question mark.

What are Zoraa’s strengths and weaknesses?
Zoraa’s strengths are her strength and defensive abilities. She is an incredibly strong woman. She has incredible jumping potential. She’s a superior athlete. Assistant Coach Michael Morgan came back from watching her play a couple years ago and said, `you know I think she can jump higher and run faster than Crystal’. For Michael to make that comparison was pretty strong. She has more size than Crystal and more bulk than Crystal did when she was a freshman. We need to see how her need rebounds and this is the second time for that knee. 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. She also needs to work on her outside shot. She scored al lot of her points in high school due because of her defensive abilities and taking the ball in for lay ups.

You will be looking for Lindsey Nyenhuis to raise her game to a new level this year? How has her off season development been and what impresses you about her?
Lindsey has always been a gunner. She’s able to put the ball in the hole and you love that as a coach. She’s not afraid to put the ball up and that’s a great attribute that she has. Lindsey has to understand how important it is to play defense and that’s something she didn’t really grasp onto her freshman year until the end of the year and by then it was a little too late. Now she’s had a year to understand 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.

Kristi Smith did an unbelievable job as point guard last year, directing the offense, scoring and distributing the ball… how valuable is it knowing that you have a proven and experienced point guard in the lineup?
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. She’s a point guard that can distribute the ball; she has the most assists of any freshman at Iowa, which is an amazing accomplishment. Kristi can also score as well. She has the ability to shoot from outside, she has a nice jump shot, she has a quick release on her shot. I think Kristi’s going to have a fabulous career and knowing that we have her coming back for three more seasons is a very good feeling. One of the things Kristi needs to improve on is being more of a vocal leader on the floor because her teammates look to her at that point guard position. She didn’t really embrace that last year, but she knows that is an important aspect.

Will there be times where you shift Kristi to the off-guard position when Abby Emmert comes in?
Kristi could play the off guard position, she’s a good enough shooter. Abby did a very good job backing up Kristi last year and she has two years left, so there’s a possibility we can play them at both guard positions. Both of them want to be in that point guard position. Our philosophy is that we want the best five players on the floor at a time and if that is having one of them at the off guard position we’ll look into it.

Jenee Graham has shown flashes the past couple years in between injuries, will her role stay the same, coming off the bench to provide a defensive spark and rebound?
Jenee’s career has just been hampered with injuries. You just want her to catch a break. I think about her first two years and I feel like she’s paid her dues — she’s played in pain. I just want her to be able to play pain-free because when we see her play pain-free, we see a different Jenee on the floor. She has incredible potential, she’s got good size, is a tremendous defensive player with good anticipation skills and long arms. She’s a fabulous rebounder. She needs to work on her offensive game and her offensive shot. I think Jenee thinks about her shot a little too much. She has tremendous potential to be a big part of our team this year; I just wish she can get the break physically.

Iowa was the highest scoring team last year in the Big Ten; do you see us running-and-gunning again this year?
That’s the style we like to play and the style I like to coach and if you have the players to do it, I think you should do it. How much will we miss Crystal Smith in that area because she played really well into that type of system. I think we’ll see a little of an effect of not having Crystal in that running style of play. But I think our team enjoys getting down the floor. 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.

What will be this team’s strengths and weaknesses this year?
I think we have good experience returning, especially at that important center and point guard positions. I think we are going to have a dominating front court and we’ll use the size to our advantage. Due to injuries we will lack the depth that we had in past years. Also, we’re not proven behind the arc this year. We need to have that proven 3-point threat that we had that with Crystal and Tiffany last year.

What makes JoAnn Hamlin such a great player? How beneficial will it be to have her practice for a year with the team before she suits up in 2007-08?
When you recruit athletes out of high school, you don’t know for sure what you’re getting, but when you’re able to have a transfer that is proven and has played at the top level and has been successful at the top level, you’re chances for success are a lot greater. She knows what it takes to compete at the top level in the Big 12 Conference. As a freshman, she was Kansas State’s third-leading scorer and their best field goal percentage shooter. JoAnn played the last part of her freshman year with an injured shoulder that she’s had surgery on since. This year will be great for her in that she’ll be able to learn our system and continue strength development and work on her post moves in our practices. She’s a great addition to our basketball team.

What’s it going to be like having the team travel overseas next summer to Greece?
We are very excited about our trip to Greece next year! We are planning on going in August, 2007 and spend 12 days there and play four games. Obviously, we want to do a lot of sightseeing. My philosophy on those trips is that you use the 10 days prior to leaving that the NCAA gives you to practice and you practice really hard for those 10 days. When you go on the trip, yes you want to compete and win those games, but more importantly I really want them to sightsee and be tourists, enjoy the experience and build team chemistry because truly those memories will last a life time. To be able to travel overseas with your best friends can be a life changing experience.

Is Lindsay Richards still planning on serving as a volunteer assistant coach this year?
No she isn’t. She has just accepted a position with a sports marketing company in Chicago. Lindsay packed up last week and left for Chicago. She’s very excited about this opportunity.

How gratifying is it that some of your former players have continued a career in basketball?
It’s a really special feeling to know that they enjoyed their experience so much in women’s basketball here at the University of Iowa that they want to continue in that as a career path. Obviously, if they didn’t have an enjoyable experience or a rewarding experience they wouldn’t pursue it as a career, so I think it solidifies that we know that our student-athletes are having a good experience here and they understand the value of coaching and teaching as well as making an impact on young people.