Taking on the Best

Nov. 5, 2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Lisa Bluder isn’t interested in exhibition blowouts. In fact, the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Iowa had a simple plan when selecting Washburn (Kan.) University as Sunday’s opponent in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“We tried to find the best Division II teams in the nation for the next two years,” Bluder said. “We have Washburn this year and I believe we have Emporia State next year. Fortunately we have some of the best Division II teams in the nation close by.”

Washburn is rated No. 18 in the USA Today/ESPN Division II Coaches Poll released Nov. 4. Emporia State is seventh.

“A lot of people enjoy playing their exhibitions against teams they’re going to slaughter,” Bluder said. “To me, that isn’t a whole lot of fun. I would rather get better and lose the exhibition game than slaughter somebody and probably pick up some bad habits along the way. We’re glad to bring in Washburn. They’ve had a lot of success and they have an excellent, veteran coach.”

Last season the Lady Blues finished 27-5, with four losses coming away from their Lee Arena home court in Topeka. Washburn is coached by Ron McHenry, who owns a nine-year record of 241-49 (83.1 winning percentage). The Lady Blues return two starters — guard Brette Ulsaker and forward Dayna Rodriguez.

The Iowa-Washburn exhibition follows a men’s basketball exhibition between the Hawkeyes and Marian (Ind.). Admission is $3 for adults. Children and anyone with a ticket stub from the Iowa-Northwestern football game Nov. 7 will be admitted free. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.

Some of the most positive news for the Hawkeyes concerns a student-athlete who will not even play against Washburn. Freshman Theairra Taylor (St. Paul, Minn./Central), who torn an ACL during her final high school game, is showing excellent progress and should be ready for Iowa’s regular-season opener Nov. 14 against Santa Clara.

Purchase your season tickets and mini-season ticket packages online by clicking HERE. You can also call the UI Athletics Ticket Office at 1-800 IA-HAWKS.

“We were in a situation where three months ago I would have said there’s a 30-percent chance (Theairra) could play,” Bluder said. “Now we’re looking at a 98-percent chance. It gives us one more option and it’s an incredibly-gifted option that we have now. If it wasn’t for the knee brace on her, I don’t think anybody would ever know she’s coming off an ACL injury just six months ago.”

The Hawkeyes will start a veteran-heavy lineup Sunday, but it is a group that Bluder said is not set in stone. Senior JoAnn Hamlin will be at center, the forwards are sophomores Hannah Draxten and Kelly Krei, and junior Kachine Alexander and sophomore Kamille Wahlin will be at guard.

“At this time of year, no matter what, every team better be excited,” Bluder said. “There’s so much unknown ahead of you, but there’s so much excitement to get the ball tipped in the air against a different competition level. We’ll be able to tell a lot on Sunday when we actually play in front of people and put on the uniform and have that scoreboard saying a score and all those things that a game environment brings to the table.”

After graduating 10 seniors from teams that won a combined 42 games the past two seasons, Bluder admits that things are understandably moving a little slower than in the past.

“The people impacted the most in a positive manner by exhibitions are the freshmen,” Bluder said. “Just putting on that Iowa uniform and running out of the tunnel — all those emotions you go through.”

One veteran returning is Alexander, an all-Big Ten perfomer.

“We’re getting more comfortable with each other,” Alexander said. “I think that’s key. We have a brand new team and we’re working on getting that chemistry. This is going to be a tough game. Washburn has the potential to beat us…they’re very good.”

The Hawkeyes were 21-11 last season and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season. Iowa won 13 of 15 games inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The first regular-season game against Santa Clara will begin at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14. It is a first-round match-up in the KCRG-TV9 Hawkeye Challenge.