2006-07 was Iowa's dress rehearsal

Oct. 10, 2007

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IOWA CITY — University of Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder officially opened the women’s basketball season by dusting off a quotation she felt accurately depicted the 2007-08 Hawkeyes.

“Failure is nothing more than the necessary dress rehearsal for future successes,” Bluder said. “I feel like last year was a dress rehearsal for what can happen this year for our basketball team.”

If you hadn’t noticed, the Hawkeyes will be deep, they will be experienced and they will be loaded. Bluder expects to improve upon last season’s injury-plagued 14-16 campaign and make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. Here are just a few of the reasons for optimism: every starter returns for Iowa this season, every player returns for Iowa this season, arguably the best sophomore class in the Big Ten Conference is now arguably the best junior class (only much more seasoned), senior Johanna Solverson returns for a medical redshirt year and sophomore JoAnn Hamlin, a transfer from Kansas State, is eligible.

If that isn’t enough, you can toss in two impressive freshmen — guard Kachine Alexander and forward Kelsey Cermak — who will be able to ease into the Division I atmosphere thanks to the returning Hawkeye depth. Both Alexander and Cermak led their high school teams to state championships as juniors.

“We are deeper at every position than we have been in a long, long time,” Bluder said. “We also have seasoned, intelligent guards surrounded by big, strong post players and to me, that’s a lethal combination.”

Bluder cautioned that despite looking dominant on paper, the Hawkeyes will still be challenged by the fact that the Big Ten Conference remains as strong as ever. Iowa will also have to find a way to put the stranglehold on opposing offenses that averaged 71.7 points per game a year ago.

“Defense was our Achilles heel last year,” Bluder said. “We could shoot the lights out of the ball, but we couldn’t defend that. We have made some changes in our defensive philosophy. We’re going back to more of an aggressive, denial defense than what we played the last couple years. We also changed our zone defense.”

Bluder stressed that because Iowa has more depth this season, the Hawkeyes will be able to “play harder” and “more risk-free” because they will no longer be worried about picking up fouls.

Iowa is not the lone conference school returning its entire roster. Bluder said the same is true for Wisconsin and Illinois — two teams the Hawkeyes were a combined 1-2 against last season. Ohio State is the defending league champion after going 15-1 in 2006-07, followed by tournament champion Purdue (13-3) and Michigan State (13-3). The Hawkeyes shared eighth place with Indiana with a Big Ten record of 6-10.

“The most important thing is, it just feels right. The chemistry is there, the optimism is there, the enthusiasm is there and it just feels right. Our team also has a desire to get back in the NCAA Tournament and also make some noise in the tournament.”
Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder

“This conference was not hit hard by graduation last year with the exception obviously of Jessica Davenport (Ohio State) and Katie Geralds (Purdue),” Bluder said. “It’s going to be a very, very tough conference, but I do think that we can do some remarkable things this year.”

Last season Iowa had two players named Third Team All-Big Ten Conference. Junior guard Kristi Smith was selected by both the media and the coaches and junior forward Wendy Ausdemore was named by the coaches. Junior center Megan Skouby was the consensus Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2006 and also landed on the media’s second team.

Smith led the Hawkeyes last season in scoring (13.4 points per game), assists (124) and steals (49). She made 109 of 127 free throws (85.8 percent). Skouby (13.2) and Ausdemore (12.7) also scored in double figures. Skouby posted a team-high with 37 blocked shots and Ausdemore was tops in three-point field goals (62) and free throw percentage (55 of 61, .902). Other team leaders were Junior Nicole VanderPol in field goal percentage (.491) and senior Jenee Graham in rebounds (234, 7.8 per game).

“The most important thing is, it just feels right,” Bluder said. “The chemistry is there, the optimism is there, the enthusiasm is there and it just feels right. Our team also has a desire to get back in the NCAA Tournament and also make some noise in the tournament.”

Bluder enters her eighth season at Iowa with a record of 127-87 (.593) at the school and a 23-year record of 483-229 (.678). She has guided the Hawkeyes to four first-division finishes in the Big Ten and to two NCAA Tournaments (2004 and ’06) and to the WNIT four times (2001, ’02, ’03, ’05).

Iowa will also make eight appearances on the Big Ten Network, beginning Nov. 28 against Georgia Tech at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The other nationally televised games will be against Ohio State (Jan. 6), Michigan State (Jan. 10), Illinois (Jan. 21), Michigan (Jan. 27), Northwestern (Jan. 31), Penn State (Feb. 10) and Minnesota (Feb. 17).

“We have a terrific schedule again this year,” Bluder said. “We’ll be hosting Drake University (Nov. 13), a team that was in the NCAA Tournament last year, and we’re also playing at UNI (Nov. 18) and also at Iowa State (Dec. 5).”

The game between the Hawkeyes and Georgia Tech is part of the newly-created Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Bluder called the Atlantic Coach Conference “the No. 1 women’s basketball conference in America right now.” The Hawkeye Challenge on Dec. 8-9 will feature Northern Illinois, Saint Joseph’s and Wyoming. Last season Wyoming won the WNIT championship.

The 2007-08 season will be the last for seniors Abby Emmert, Graham, Stacy Schlapkohl, Solverson and Krista VandeVenter. Bluder feels fortunate to have so many seasoned veterans.

“Seniors lead in a different way,” Bluder said. “It’s not that juniors and sophomores and freshmen don’t want to lead. It’s that they can’t lead in the same way that a person that is putting on the Iowa uniform for the last time, and this is their last opportunity to make an impact.”

Iowa begins practice this weekend and the Hawkeyes open the season at home on Friday, Nov. 2, against Nebraska-Omaha. The first regular-season game will be Sunday, Nov. 11, against Dartmouth at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Coach Bluder transcript
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