At Pan Am Games, Lisa Bluder relies on Team USA memories

Ryan Murken

Lisa Bluder's success as a college coach is well documented.

The all-time wins leader at Iowa, Bluder has more than 650 career victories, 304 of which have come in 15 seasons leading the Hawkeyes.

Bluder's history of success as an international coach isn't storied, but it's still something the veteran coach is banking on this week.

An assistant coach on the U.S.' gold-medal winning team at the 2001 World University games, Bluder is seeking her second gold this week as she leads the national team at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.

"It is definitely an advantage to have already been through it once, there is absolutely no question about it," Bluder said on Wednesday from Canada. "You understand the international game and the intensity better, and you can understand how all the little things work. That experience is valuable."

After her initial coaching stint with USA Basketball in 2001, Bluder intended to build her international resume. But every possible international opportunity seemed to have a conflict.

The first time Bluder was asked to coach a U.S. team following 2001, she was pregnant with her son. The next opportunity conflicted with a Hawkeyes foreign trip.

Then the opportunities stopped coming.

"When they asked me, I always had another commitment going on and I think it was three strikes and you are out," Bluder said. "I kind of got out of the loop after that."

Until this spring.

When the call came in March for Bluder to coach the Pan American women's team, she didn't hesitate.

"What made me decide to do it is I loved my opportunity the first time, and I knew with a veteran coaching staff that I had that I wouldn't be putting Iowa in a bad spot," Bluder said. "We had a great jump on our 2016 recruiting class and we have such great assistant coaches that can handle things perfectly fine when I'm not there. That gave me the confidence to do it."

Bluder took on the role and hasn't looked back.

She helped select the 12-member team at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

The team of college freshmen, sophomores and juniors has been training together since July 3 and opens play at 8 p.m. Thursday with a Group A game against Brazil (ESPN3).

"It's a long process with a lot of practices and a lot of intensity," Bluder said. "I think our team is really confident right now, which you want to be going into this because everyone is confident. You can't doubt yourself one little bit."

The U.S. team, which features two-time NCAA player of the year Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson from Connecticut as well as South Carolina's Alaina Coates and Tiffany Mitchell, will face the Dominican Republic on Friday and complete group play with a Saturday game against Puerto Rico.

Semifinals are set for Sunday with the medal games scheduled for Monday with all games being streamed on ESPN3.

Bluder is hoping her previous experience helps navigate the tight schedule.

"We have a 24-hour turnaround for every game, so that isn't very much," Bluder said. "I think being through this before helps adjust to some of those stressful situations."

The U.S. won Pan Am gold in 2007 but went 2-2 and dropped to seventh place at the most recent games in 2011.

Bluder is intent on making that performance a one-time stumble.

"We are the big bad USA, and we've got the target on our back," Bluder said. "There is no doubt about that."

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