Nov. 12, 2014
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — A myriad of emotions are present inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena as the No. 19 University of Iowa women’s basketball program celebrates a top 20 recruiting class while preparing for two home games to kick off the 2014-15 season.
UI head coach Lisa Bluder exhaled briefly Wednesday when she received National Letters of Intent from future Hawkeyes Tania Davis, Megan Gustafson, Tagyn Larson, and Hannah Stewart.
“We are thrilled with the women we signed,” Bluder said at a news conference in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “We were able to sign one of every positional need we had: point guard, small forward, and center. They are quality kids, not only great players, but they are great women, too.”
Senior guard Melissa Dixon’s emotions have been fluctuating between sad and excited. She is eager to start the season, but she isn’t ready for her collegiate career to reach its final chapter.
The Hawkeyes open Friday against South Carolina Upstate, who returns five starters from a team that played in the 2014 postseason Women’s Basketball Invitational.
“It’s sad going into your senior season; the seniors love it so much here, and we’re not ready for it to end,” Dixon said. “It’s exciting, and it’s one last time to achieve the goals we have been working so hard on the last three years.”
Freshman guard Whitney Jennings can’t be anything but curious with a pinch of nervousness. Sure, she started and played 23 minutes Nov. 2 during a 119-57 exhibition win against St. Ambrose, but playing for keeps begins Friday.
“Once we start on Friday it almost becomes a blur. We have 11 games between Friday and the start of the Big Ten season. You take a week out for finals and four days out for Christmas and there isn’t much time to fit in 11 games. It is very compressed.”
UI basketball coach
“I’m excited to play in front of the fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena,” Jennings said. “We’re excited to get on the floor and play someone other than ourselves.”
USC Upstate is a quick, guard-oriented team. Bluder is impressed with center Brittany Starling, who averaged 10.5 points and 7.9 rebounds a game last season when the Spartans were 17-15.
Following the game against South Carolina Upstate, Iowa will have a practice Saturday to organize and implement strategy for Robert Morris, an NCAA Tournament qualifier last season that returns four starters.
The Hawkeyes play 11 games in 38 days before beginning Big Ten action Dec. 28.
“Once we start on Friday it almost becomes a blur,” Bluder said. “We have 11 games between Friday and the start of the Big Ten season. You take a week out for finals and four days out for Christmas and there isn’t much time to fit in 11 games. It is very compressed.”
Quick turnarounds are handled more easily by experienced teams, and Iowa qualifies in that category with outstanding senior leadership from Dixon, Bethany Doolittle, Samantha Logic, and Kathryn Reynolds.
“That makes a big difference,” Bluder said. “(Experienced players) know the terminology and it’s easier for our players to grasp with so many seniors on our team. They can pick up things quicker and remember how we handled a situation from last year.”
Jennings was presented her first scouting report Wednesday. She will get a new one Saturday.
“Eventually we’ll get in the swing of things,” Jennings said. “The seniors and upperclassmen have done a great job with us freshmen, getting us into the system and making us feel comfortable every day. They take that upon themselves to get us ready. We look to them for guidance.”
The Hawkeyes host Robert Morris on Nov. 16 beginning at 2 p.m. (CT). The Colonials (21-12 last season) are led by sophomore guard Anna Niki Stamolamprou, who started 27 times last season and averaged 12.4 points and 3.0 assists per game.
“It’s hard to believe we’re back at it to begin another season,” Bluder said. “I feel good coming off our first exhibition game, but we’re ready to go for real now.”