Hawkeye women look to define roles on Italy trip
At this point one year ago, Iowa was still more than a month away from its first practice.
Even without a team practice in the books the Hawkeyes had a good idea of who would fill most roles.
That's part of what comes with having a senior-heavy team that features four returning starters.
On Monday, Iowa wrapped up its 10th practice in preparation for its Italy tour and still had a number of starting positions and key roles up for grabs.
"The competition has been very fierce because they know there is a lot of possibilities and I don't think that could come at a better time when you have 10 practices and they have no idea who the starting lineup is," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "We (the coaching staff) don't know who the starters are but we're confident the cream will rise to the top."
It's hardly a secret the Hawkeyes will look different this season.
The Hawkeyes must replace three senior all-Big Ten starters from last year's team.
All-American point guard Samantha Logic, the school's all-time leading three-point shooter Melissa Dixon and all-conference center Bethany Doolittle are all gone from last year's team that went 26-8 and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996.
The Hawkeyes will be different this season, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"There is a lot of competition in practice and that is good," senior Kali Peschel said. "We are pushing each other, there are no defined roles yet or defined positions so getting people to play different positions and pushing each other to earn that spots it's been really good for us as a team. I think that's something that is going to help us down the line."
Peschel is one of only three returning players that averaged more than 10 minutes a game last season.
Junior Ally Disterhoft, who tied for the team-lead in scoring last season at 14.8 points per game, and sophomore guard Whitney Jennings are the only returning starters and good bets to start the season opener.
"Aly and Whitney both have starting experience and really it's up for grabs after that," Bluder said.
Experience wasn't the only aspect that helped Iowa forge its roles early last fall.
Logic was a true point guard, a quintessential floor leader.
Doolittle a three-year starter in the post, and Dixon a pure shooter.
This season the Hawkeyes have one of the most versatile rosters in Bluder's 16-year tenure.
The Hawkeyes have three players capable of playing point guard in Jennings, junior Alexa Kastanek and freshman Tania Davis that all are under 5-foot-11.
Iowa also has three post players over 6-foot-3 in senior Nicole Smith, sophomore Chase Coley and freshman Megan Gustafson.
The other eight players on the Iowa roster are all between 6-foot-0 and 6-foot-2 and capable of playing a variety of positions.
"We kind of say that we play positionless basketball," Bluder said. "We don't care who is on the floor. We could have three point guards, we could have three forwards on the floor, we just put the best players on the floor and we have that type of team now."
The veteran coach plans to begin tinkering with personal groupings during the three games of the 11-day Italy trip.
"Being able to go over there and it doesn't count on our record and we can see who works well together and see who steps up," Bluder said. "It's very different. We are going to have to really think more as coaches as far as lineups and rotations."
Last season Bluder employed a seven-player rotation for most of the year with only six players averaging more than 10 minutes a game.
That could change this season.
"This might be our deepest team that we have had ever at Iowa," Bluder said. "Sometimes you have a lot of people but maybe you aren't deep as far as you aren't going to use them all. I feel like this year we have a lot of people we can use."
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.