Lisa Bluder, USA Pan Am team ready for stiff challenge

Ryan Murken
Lisa Bluder, right, will be leading the U.S. women’s basketball team at the Pan American Games

Last March, Lisa Bluder crossed a long-awaited item off her list of coveted career goals by directing Iowa to the Sweet 16 for the first time in her 15 years leading the Hawkeyes.

Before turning her attention to a second straight Sweet 16 trip, Bluder is trying to add another career achievement to her list — a gold medal.

Bluder was named the head coach of the United States Pan American women's basketball team in March and will lead the squad at the 2015 edition of the Pan American Games that begins July 16 in Toronto.

Along with assistant coaches Michelle Clark-Heard of Western Kentucky and Scott Rueck of Oregon State, Bluder will lead a United States team comprised of college freshmen, sophomores and juniors against squads comprised of professionals and Olympians.

The United States, which last won gold at the Pan Am games in 2007, will compete in Group A and face Brazil, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in the preliminary round.

"They described it to me as David and Goliath because we are going against Olympic teams and our Olympic team is playing in the WNBA," Bluder said. "The last time they did this they finished seventh and obviously USA always wants to go for the gold and that is going to be our goal but we also know that it is going to be really tough."

For Bluder and her team the process of competing for Pan American gold began last month at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

During that time Bluder selected the 12-player roster that features two-time NCAA player of the year Breanna Stewart of Connecticut, South Carolina all-American Tiffany Mitchell and Big Ten standout Shatori Walker-Kimbrough of Maryland.

"This business is so competitive and you want to out-recruit somebody, you want to beat somebody on the floor, you want to finish higher in the standings, but when we went to Colorado Springs everybody is in the same boat," Bluder explained. "Once you got there to the training center everybody is together."

The team that features six players that were in last year's Final Four has been training in Colorado Springs since July 3 and will depart for Toronto on Wednesday.

Opening ceremonies are on July 10 and the United States will play a pair of friendlies before the five-day competition opens.

After the preliminary-round games July 16-18, the semifinals are set for July 19 with the bronze and gold medal games scheduled for July 20.

"As team USA all these kids that have those battles, those rivalries with one another in college, it's not there," Bluder said. "It's really a neat atmosphere because we are all in this together representing the United States and everything else goes out the window."

Bluder isn't the only Iowa representative on the U.S. team.

Sean Sullivan, a Regina graduate and five-year manager for the Iowa women's basketball team is serving in the same role on the U.S. team.

All of the United States' games will be televised.

Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.

2015 U.S. Pan American Women's Basketball Team Schedule

Preliminary Round

July 16

United States vs. Brazil, 8 p.m. ESPN2

July 17

United States vs. Dominican Republic, 8 p.m. ESPN2

July 18

United States vs. Puerto Rico, 8 p.m. ESPN2

Semifinal Round July 19

7th vs. 8th, 9:30 a.m. ESPN2

Semifinal, 12:30 p.m. ESPN2

5th vs 6th, 5 p.m. ESPN2

Semifinal, 8p.m. ESPN2

Medal Games July 20

Bronze Medal Game, 3 p.m. ESPN2

Bronze Medal Game, 7:45 p.m. ESPN2