Replacing seniors key for Iowa to make Sweet 16 return
OKLAHOMA CITY – Nearly two decades separated the two most recent Sweet 16 trips for the Iowa women's basketball program.
The Hawkeyes' best NCAA Tournament showing since 1996 ended on Friday with an 81-66 regional semifinal loss to second-seeded Baylor at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The task for head coach Lisa Bluder and company now becomes making sure the next Sweet 16 berth comes sooner, rather than later.
"I think this gives us some experience to build on knowing that we've been here and it definitely gives us motivation and desire to come back here," freshman Whitney Jennings said. "We have to put in the work during the offseason to get back here."
Based on who is leaving the Hawkeyes after this season, returning to the Sweet 16 looks like a tough task.
Iowa losses three senior starters from a class that combined to win 93 games over the last four years, the most in 21 years for a graduating group of Hawkeyes.
Seniors Samantha Logic, Bethany Doolittle and Melissa Dixon all leave as 1,000-point scorers and among the best ever at Iowa at their respective crafts.
Dixon departs as Iowa's career leader in 3-pointers with 334 and scored 1,480 points.
The 6-foot-4 Doolittle is second all-time with 278 career blocks and leaves Iowa with more than 1,300 points and 650 career rebounds.
"They have been such an integral part of our team since they stepped on campus," Bluder said. "They have just been great. I can't find one bad thing to say about them."
Logic may be not just the best point guard, but the best player Iowa has ever had.
Logic ends her career with 1,546 points (10th all-time) and 922 rebounds, which ranks second in school history.
Her 898 career assists are the most ever at Iowa and the second most in Big Ten history.
Logic is the only player in NCAA history to record 1,500 points, 900 rebounds, 800 assists and 250 steals.
Kathryn Reynolds, a senior co-captain and first-year law student revered for her leadership, also departs to chase a law degree.
"We wanted to start a tradition now for the future Hawks," Logic said. "And the current ones right now, we want them to keep building on it so badly because they deserve it just as much as we do."
The departures certainly create gaps, but Bluder believes there are players waiting to fill them.
Young starters Ally Disterhoft and Jennings return, as do veteran reserves Kali Peschel, Claire Till and Alexa Kastanek.
Disterhoft tied for the team lead in scoring at 14.8 points per game this season as a sophomore while Jennings averaged 9.1 points while starting 31 games.
Peschel averaged 5.1 points and 2.9 rebounds per game off the bench, but scored in double figures in three of Iowa's final five games.
The junior has started 22 games over the past two seasons.
"Kali Peschel is playing the best basketball of her career right now," Bluder said. "She is playing so well."
Chase Coley, a 6-foot-3 freshman, showed flashes of brilliance in limited minutes in three NCAA Tournament games.
"The kids you didn't really see, like Christina Buttenham and Carly Mohns, they are good players, they just didn't get a chance because we were so senior laden with this team this year," Bluder said. "They are really good players and they are going to have their time."
Iowa has reinforcements on the way in the form of an incoming recruiting class ranked in the top 20 in the nation.
Tania Davis (Grand Blanc, Mich.), Megan Gustafson (Port Wing, Wis.) and Hannah Stewart (Minot, N.D) are all top-100 national recruits and join Tagyn Larson (Sioux Falls, S.D) in a class ranked the 18th best in the country by ESPN.
"You always want to go farther, you wouldn't be human if you didn't want more, but I'm proud of what we accomplished this season," Bluder said. "We certainly want to keep building on that."
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.com.