Women's Basketball Season Preview

Oct. 2, 2008

Basketball season is right around the corner and the defending Big Ten co-champion women’s basketball team will hold its annual media day Wednesday (Oct. 8) morning at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Be sure to return to hawkeyesports.com on media day for full coverage of Coach Bluder’s press conference, player comments, photos, video and your first look at the new 2009 media guide.

The Hawkeyes will hold their first team practice Friday, Oct. 17.

The Hawkeyes returned to the national spotlight last season winning a share of the Big Ten regular season championship, advancing to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament and competing in the NCAA Tournament. Iowa will look to maintain the momentum and level of play from last season and increasing fan enthusiasm.

Iowa won 11 of its final 13 contests, including a Big Ten-season-best eight-straight, to conclude the season. It helped capture a share of the ninth conference title in the program’s history. Last year’s squad had tremendous leadership, as it was led by five seniors. Although the Black and Gold lose those five players, five new seniors are ready to take charge and lead the 2008-09 Hawkeyes.

“We have five seniors who are anxious to assume the opportunity to lead their team,” said Bluder. “Even though we lost some great leadership and talent we have some really strong leaders in the wings. With the added number of freshmen on our roster, upperclassmen will have an incredible job teaching them how to be Division I student-athletes.

“Last year, I believe our senior leadership helped us win many close games. I believe they helped us bounce back from a tough loss at Michigan State and then reel off eight-straight wins in the Big Ten. I think we are going to have strong leadership again this year. To be blessed with senior leadership in back-to-back seasons is pretty nice. Senior leadership is what makes a team special and unique.”

In addition to returning eight experienced letterwinners, the Hawkeyes add four extremely freshmen to the roster: Hannah Draxten, Shante Jones, Kelly Krei and Kamille Wahlin.

Although the Hawkeyes lost five outstanding seniors, Coach Bluder believes the team has good experience returning at key positions.

“Last year, I believe our senior leadership helped us win many close games. I believe they helped us bounce back from a tough loss at Michigan State and then reel off eight-straight wins in the Big Ten. I think we are going to have strong leadership again this year. To be blessed with senior leadership in back-to-back seasons is pretty nice. Senior leadership is what makes a team special and unique.”
Head Coach Lisa Bluder

“I think Kristi (Smith) is one of the best point guards in the Big Ten,” Bluder said. “We have great outside shooting with Wendy (Ausdemore) and we have height inside with Megan (Skouby) and JoAnn (Hamlin).”

The Hawkeyes have consistently ranked in the league’s top five in scoring over the years and this season will be no exception. Sixty-two percent of Iowa’s offense returns, including three of the top four scorers from a year ago (Smith, Ausdemore and Skouby). Bluder said this team likes to run and it has the quickness to accomplish a more up-tempo style.

Conversely, Bluder feels the team will need to work on its rebounding and continue the improvement it made on defense last season. Iowa’s defense ranked first in 3-point field goal percentage, second in overall field goal percentage and first in rebounding margin a year ago — a vast improvement from the previous year.

“We lost our top three rebounders from last year in Johanna (Solverson), Jenee (Graham) and Krista (VandeVenter),” Bluder said. “We also need to maintain the focus on our defense. Last year, we made great strides in our defense, but we need to continue our success.”

One of the reasons for Iowa’s success last season was its re-establishment of a home court advantage. Having the confidence and thriving on playing at home and making Carver-Hawkeye Arena a difficult place for the opposition to play was important. Last season, the Hawkeyes went 13-3 at home, 7-1 in league contests, including winning its last six games.

Iowa, who enters the season 11 wins from collecting the program’s 600th, will need to continue its home dominance if it wants return to the NCAA Tournament and remain among the Big Ten elite. Coach Bluder feels like this could be one of the most challenging schedules an Iowa team has ever had to face during her tenure.

“We have a very challenging league and non-conference schedule, which includes playing top competition on the road,” said Bluder. “I feel our players will rise to the challenge and have a great season.”

Iowa’s backcourt is filled with talent and experience as the group returns five players and adds three talented freshmen to the mix. Leading the returnees are senior co-captains Kristi Smith and Wendy Ausdemore.

Smith is Iowa’s floor general, starting the previous three years at point guard. In addition to directing the Hawkeye offense, the senior has led the Hawkeyes in scoring the past two seasons and was named first team all-Big Ten and honorable mention all-America last season.

“To be selected as one of the top five players in the conference, as a junior, is an incredible feat,” said Bluder. I like that she’s a scoring point guard, she’s very coachable and eager to get out on the floor. I love her competitiveness.”

Kristi Smith enters her fourth year as Iowa’s floor general.

Smith enters her final year in an Iowa uniform, sixth in career 3-pointers made (120), ninth in assists (309) and 24th in scoring (1,033). The native of Thornton, CO, has amassed over 400 points and 100 assists the last two seasons.

Ausdemore, one of Iowa’s all-time prolific 3-point shooters, is a two-year starter at the three position. The native of Neola, IA, enters her final season as Iowa’s career leader for 3-point field goal accuracy (.423, 160-378), ranked second in career 3-pointers (160) and 26th in scoring (948). Ausdemore was the third-best 3-point shooter in the country a year ago. She needs only 52 points to reach the 1,000-point plateau.

Ausdemore does more than just score points. Her overall game has rounded into form. She has worked on improving her ball handling and defense and has become a leader. The senior also wants to add more penetration to her game in order to get to the free throw line. She is a very strong free throw shooter. Her success on and off the court has garnered her high praise from Bluder.

“I’ve coached a lot of very good small forward shooters and she is the best,” said the dean of the Big Ten coaches. “I think that speaks volumes because I have had the opportunity to coach some really good players. She has worked so hard to become the shooter she is. She’s has the quickest release of shooters we have coached in a long time, or maybe even ever!”

Wendy Ausdemore is one of the Big Ten’s most accurate 3-pointer shooter ever.

Also returning are sophomores Kachine Alexander and Kelsey Cermak and senior Lindsey Nyenhuis. According to Bluder, Alexander was Iowa’s best defensive player on the floor a year ago. The sophomore played in 18 contests her rookie year. The coaching staff gave her some tough assignments in the beginning of the Big Ten season and she responded in a big way. The native of Minneapolis, MN, worked hard during the summer on her offensive game in hopes of becoming a better all-around threat.

“She’s a great competitor,” Bluder said. “It’s going to be great to have her defensive presence back on the floor. She’s also a very talented rebounder for her size. She’s worked hard on her shooting by going back to the basics. She spent a lot of hours working on her game and I hope it pays off. It will make her more of a complete player.”

Cermak and Nyenhuis played in a combined 18 games for the Black and Gold last season. Nyenhuis is a 3-point specialist with pinpoint accuracy, while Cermak continues to get better working on her shooting accuracy and defensive abilities.

As a team, Iowa drained 116 triples a year ago during Big Ten play, which is the most ever by a Big Ten team. Players who made 85 of those 116 treys return.

Draxten, Wahlin and Jones add depth to the lineup and will be called upon to step up in order for the Hawkeyes to have a successful season.

Wahlin and Draxten were prep all-state honorees last season in Minnesota. Wahlin is a point guard with great quickness, plays tenacious defense and can score a variety of ways. Draxten is a big guard who is fundamentally strong and has a beautiful jumper. Jones is an athletic guard who can penetrate, handle the ball and loves to play defense.

With the Hawkeyes having more depth in the backcourt, the offense will likely be more guard-oriented.

“Our offense will likely feature more guards than a double post offense,” said Bluder. “We’ll continue to run an offense with motion principles.”

Senior Megan Skouby and junior JoAnn Hamlin anchor Iowa’s front court. Both bring experience and height to the post.

Megan Skouby ranks high in Iowa career scoring and blocks.

“We lost a lot of post players to graduation,” said Bluder. “But, we return Megan and JoAnn. Megan has great height with tremendous potential and experience inside. JoAnn is a competitor who won’t back down to anyone or any challenge.”

Skouby was a part-time starter her first three years. She will be looked upon to step into the starting center position. The native of Mentor, OH, enters the 2008-09 campaign ranked fourth in Iowa career blocks (107) and 21st in scoring (1,051). She is a career 51 percent (399-786) shooter from the field and 79 percent (250-318) from the charity stripe.

“Megan can have a tremendous senior season,” said Bluder. “Sometimes having the motivation of this being your last year is pretty powerful. I’m hoping that’s the case with her.”

Hamlin enters her second season playing for the Hawkeyes after transferring from Kansas State after her freshman year. As a team co-captain, she posted season bests in assists and blocks last year, playing 16 minutes a game off the bench.

“The timing and opportunity is right for JoAnn to have a big year,” Bluder said. “She, obviously, has the confidence of her teammates and coaches.”

Senior Nicole VanderPol and freshman Kelly Krei could play a pivotal role in the team’s success. VanderPol is experienced having played 58 career games, including five starts. The junior has a nose for the ball, good range on her jump shot and is a solid rebounder.

JoAnn Hamlin is one of three captains this season.

Krei, who hails from Iowa City, joins the Hawkeye roster. She was named the 2008 Gatorade Girl’s Basketball Player of the Year after she led City High School to the state championship last March. Bluder likes her versatility as she can play facing the basket or with her back to it. She is also deceptively quick. One of Iowa’s fastest players on the roster, she can pose problems for the opposition as a power forward.

Iowa enters the 2008-09 season only 11 wins from the program’s 600th overall and four from victory No. 300 in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes are aiming to capture both milestones, stay atop the Big Ten and return to the NCAA Tournament, where Iowa City and Carver-Hawkeye Arena are set to host the first and second round games.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Championships,” said Bluder. “This will give Iowa fans a great opportunity to witness the national tournament first hand. It has been a long time since Iowa City has hosted the NCAA Championship and we are excited to bring the competition and atmosphere back to our campus!”