Season Preview Q-and-A with Coach Bluder

Sept. 14, 2007

Head Women’s Basketball Coach Lisa Bluder sat down with to take an upcoming look at the team, the Big Ten Conference and the excitement surrounding this year’s squad. That Hawkeyes return ten experienced letterwinners, plus add three newcomers, including a sophomore transfer. Iowa begins full team practices October 13, and has high expectations for the 2007-08 campaign.

A number of conference teams return 4-5 starters from a year ago. Do you see the Big Ten being as balanced as ever?
I see more balance within our conference and a lot of returning experience. It’s going to be a very competitive conference this year. I believe we have an excellent chance to do well.

How important is it to return to the NCAA Tournament and what are your expectations for this year?
Our expectations, every year, are to be playing in the NCAA Tournament. Since we didn’t accomplish that last year, we feel even more driven to return this year, especially having a team with five seniors. I think whenever you have seniors, there’s an added incentive to have excellence and success. Our team definitely feels that way. I feel something different with this team and it’s because of the senior leadership.

How anxious and excited are you to start practice?
I’m really excited for the first practice. It’s strange in that even though we didn’t lose anybody to graduation, I think we’re going to look different in a positive way. We add four new players in freshmen Kelsey Cermak and Kachine Alexander and experienced leaders in sophomore JoAnn Hamlin and senior Johanna Solverson. We have a wealth of experience returning. We have a great blend of experience plus veteran players that now have the opportunity to compete.

JoAnn Hamlin had a year to practice with the team and learn the offense. How much of an impact do you see her having this season and in the future?
I see JoAnn as an impact player. Last year she had an opportunity to practice, adjust to our team and also recover from shoulder surgery she had the previous summer. We got to see JoAnn in game action in Greece last summer and I believe her competitiveness will help our basketball team, plus give us more depth inside.

What makes JoAnn Hamlin such a tough player to defend?
She’s strong, an excellent rebounder, can run the floor and get out for fast breaks really well. She also has a very nice shooting touch around the basket and can extend to 3-point range. I think what makes her most difficult to defend is that she hates to lose.

Krista VandeVenter underwent successful shoulder surgery in late March. Is her rehab on schedule and do you think her missing the past 5-6 months of individual workouts and playing with the team will set her back?
Krista had a very successful surgery and she is on track to be back for competitive workouts in October. She has missed and will miss a lot of individual time, but I really don’t think that will impact Krista. Being a senior, I believe she will pick up right where she left off prior to her injury.

Do you think this team has the potential to be your deepest at Iowa?
Yes. As long as we stay healthy I feel we have the potential to be very deep. We really have two people at every position and it hasn’t been that way recently. We’ve had to use players at multiple positions in the past and I don’t think it’s going to be that way this year.

Having a deep team, likely means many talented players won’t get a lot of playing time. Do you see that as a problem or just healthy competition?
Healthy competition, which is something we lacked the past few years. Having a deep team brings out the best in everybody because it brings out competitiveness. Nobody has a position locked up, so no one can take a day off. I think that is going to help our competition in practices, which will raise our intensity in games. As a player, when there’s more depth, you don’t have to worry about taking a risk or being safe on defense. You can play all-out and not worry about the consequences.

Both Wendy Ausdemore and Johanna Solverson are traditional small forwards. Do you expect Jo to start, and if so, who would play the off-guard?
These are problems coaches love to have. We have a lot of people who can start for us next year. That’s what is going to make us a good team because who knows who is going to be in that starting lineup from game to game. Again, it’s going to bring out great competition in practice, but also we can change our lineup. We haven’t had the flexibility to do that in the past. Wendy or Jo can play either the two or three. Jenee, as our starting off guard last year, was our leading rebounder, so she’s also a strong possibility there. We have a lot of different options at the wing position and have the ability to be very tall at those spots.

How much has Johanna Solverson matured over the past six years and what kind of year can Hawkeye fans expect to see in her final season?
She has matured a lot. The one thing that stands out in my mind is that her teammates voted her captain this year, which speaks volumes as to the confidence they have in her and what she is going to bring to our team. Jo has grown in her leadership and her ability to make mature decisions on-and-off the floor.

Wendy Ausdemore had a breakout sophomore season. How much has her game improved since last season and what is her strongest asset?
The jump Kristi and Wendy made from their freshman year was amazing. Both are tremendous 3-point shooters and incredible offensive threats. Both grew so much, confidence wise, from their freshman to sophomore years and understand what it takes to succeed. I believe we had the best sophomore class in the Big Ten last year and Kristi and Wendy had a huge part in it.

Iowa ranked second and fifth in the nation last season in 3-point and free throw accuracy, respectively. What do you attribute that to and do you expect more of the same this year?
We shot the ball extremely very well last year. We return everyone from that team and I expect we’ll continue to shoot the ball well from the perimeter. I think our players have done a good job in their summer workouts. I believe with Abby and Jo as captains, they really stressed that. I think we had individuals doing a good job of extra shooting in the gym in the past. I think Wendy and Kristi benefited from that last year. This year, as a whole, we did a really good job with our workouts.

With the injuries in the post last season, it looked like a majority of the offense was scored from the perimeter. With a solid unit on the floor this year, do you see a more balanced attack?
I think so. Our post players have extensive game experience and have improved their skills. They should have terrific years. When you have a balanced attack, it makes it easier for everyone to score and also keep opposing defenses off balance.

What would you like the team to improve upon from last year?
We definitely need to improve on defense and our rebounding. We can be so much better in those areas and they will help us win games and contend for a Big Ten championship. We’ve made quite a number of defensive changes over the summer. We needed to make changes and the players were excited about the changes. They’ve done a good job of being excited about learning and instituting them. We made changes to both our player and zone defenses.

How much improvement do you expect to see out of Megan Skouby this season after two years of extensive game action?
I look for Megan to have a really good year. Megan received all-Big Ten honors a year ago, but she can get better and grow. I think she understands that. She was injured at a crucial time last year, midway through the Big Ten season, and was never at her best after that. If Megan continues to understand how good she can be, I think she’ll be an all-Big Ten first team performer.

In addition to Wendy Ausdemore having a terrific sophomore year, Kristi Smith did as well directing the Hawkeye offense. What are you more impressed with, her scoring ability, her ability to run the offense so effectively as a sophomore, or both?
I think Kristi’s ability to score is highly impressive because she can score a number of ways. She’s an excellent 3-point shooter, she can shoot off the dribble, can catch and shoot, can get to the hole and is an excellent free throw shooter. That’s what makes her hard to defend, especially for somebody that is so unassuming in height. I think people look at her and think they can stop her. She did a really good job of leading our team last year. She grew up quite a bit from her freshman year. I believe she can get even better. I think she can dictate what the offense is doing and really take control on the floor.

How has Kristi Smith’s game improved? Do you see her distributing the ball more this year or continuing to be a scorer?
I’ve always liked a scoring point guard; that’s something I’ve enjoyed coaching, and Kristi definitely has that. Her scoring ability is one of her strengths. I want her to continue to look for her shot. We’d like her to push the ball up the floor in transition a little more and if the end result is passing the ball because your teammates run with you — that’s great. But, we don’t want to limit her in looking for a shot.

Iowa has always been a high scoring team. With the Hawkeyes having a deeper bench, do you see more fast break points this season?
In addition to defense and rebounding, we also worked on our transition offense last summer. When you have a team that isn’t real deep it’s hard to be a running team all the time. But with the added depth this year, we concentrated on it and I think we can become an even more up-tempo team.

With everyone coming back and adding two experienced collegiate players, what role do you see for the two incoming freshmen?
I think Kachine and Kelsey will have a more typical freshman year than what our freshmen have had the last several years. We’ve probably had some unrealistic expectations for our newcomers in the past because we’ve needed them to contribute immediately. Now we are sitting in a position of luxury where we don’t need our freshmen to come in and contribute right away. They can learn in a more relaxed environment rather than being put into a pressure situation immediately.

Carver-Hawkeye Arena will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in January. What is your favorite game or moment as Iowa’s coach?
Coincidentally, I played in the first women’s basketball game here with Northern Iowa. As a coach, there isn’t one game that stands out. We had some great victories over top-ranked Purdue teams in 2001, 2002 and 2006. Also, the win over Penn State in 2002 when there were over 11,000 fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and the victory over Michigan State in 2006.

What do you like the most about this year’s schedule?
Outside of our conference schedule, I’m extremely excited about hosting Georgia Tech in the first Big Ten/ACC Women’s Basketball Challenge. We’re playing against a team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament and is from the No. 1 ranked conference in the nation. It is a great matchup for Hawkeye fans. Also, I’m excited about our Hawkeye Challenge. Wyoming won the WNIT last year. I’m excited that we have five conference Sunday home games, which we haven’t had since 2001. That’s tremendous for our fans, it’s a much easier day for them to come out and support our team.

Iowa will appear on the Big Ten Network a minimum of eight times, in addition to coverage on KCRG. How will this increased television exposure help Iowa women’s basketball and in recruiting?
I think we will see the biggest benefit in recruiting. Almost anywhere in the country recruits can tune in and watch the Hawkeyes play. It’s going to be wonderful for recruiting. It’s going to be nice because we can tell parents they can watch their daughter. A lot of times parents don’t like to see their daughters go away from home because they won’t be able to see them play. This will allow them the ability to watch their daughters continue their collegiate career. It will also be great exposure because when people see a great environment and a highly competitive game they will want to come out and support us.

Can fans expect to see bigger-and-better marketing campaigns at home games this season?
I see our marketing office having a bigger role this year in getting more fans in the seats and establishing a fun environment in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

How will four new coaches affect the landscape of the Big Ten?
Coaches have styles they play and with four new coaches in the league we have to figure out their style of play and how they coach. I think it’s going to be difficult to prepare for those teams. Usually you only have one new coach entering the league. With so many, there’s going to be a lot of adjustments that need to be made.