The last time Iowa prepped for an overseas trip, the Hawkeyes were busy breaking in a highly touted group of freshman.
Four years after that trip, the group that featured graduated seniors Melissa Dixon, Bethany Doolittle and Samantha Logic — the highest scoring trio from the same class in Big Ten history — helped the Hawkeyes reach the Sweet 16.
Last week, Iowa again began preparation for its latest intercontinental jaunt, and again the Hawkeyes are doing so with an impressive freshman class.
“That’s just the way it worked out,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “It worked out well last time because that was when Sam and Melissa and Beth were coming in. So that was a great group to start out with as well.”
The NCAA allows teams one foreign trip every four seasons, and Iowa began practices last week for this year’s 11-day excursion to Italy.
This season, Iowa will be attempting to replace three senior starters from last year’s team that finished 26-8 and reached the regional semifinals for the first time since 1996.
The practices allow the Hawkeyes a jump-start on fitting together a roster that includes four freshmen from a top-20 national recruiting class and eight underclassmen overall.
“I think it comes at a great time, and the practices are going to be great, too,” junior guard Alexa Kastanek said. “That’s going to help show us what we need to get to the next level and get back to the tournament.”
Iowa opened practices for the Italy trip last Thursday and will depart Aug. 11.
The Hawkeyes will play three exhibition games in Italy. Iowa opens against Palazzetto Sandro Pertini on Aug. 14 in Pontebuggianese, Italy, will take on Asd Pallacanestro Muggia on Aug. 18 in Trieste and will conclude play in Inverigo against TK Hannover on Aug. 19.
For the Hawkeyes, the 10 three-hour practices leading up to the trip could be among the most valuable part of the experience, as their preseason practice-day count jumps to 40 from 30.
“It helps with not only getting your information to your freshmen earlier, but it lets you kind of test some things ... so I’m not wasting those 30 practice days,” Bluder said. “I can test it in the summer and then see if I want to tweak it or get rid of it, and you don’t feel like you wasted any time. It’s kind of a nice time to do that.”
The trip will also get the young players game experience as Iowa attempts to shift players into new roles this season.
Junior Ally Disterhoft and sophomore Whitney Jennings are the only two returning starters for Iowa. Senior Kali Peschel is the only other returning player who averaged more than 10 minutes a game last season.
“I think the other main thing is just the chemistry, because you build it so fast when you are overseas,” Bluder said. “You are thrown into that situation where you have to be together for 12 days in a different country, and to me that is probably the biggest benefit is just getting that time together early on to build chemistry.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at rmmurken.