The Iowa Hawkeyes know exactly what’s ahead this season

COLLEGE PARK, MD - JANUARY 04: Kathleen Doyle #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes dribbles the ball during a women's college basketball game against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center on January 4, 2018 in College Park, Maryland. The Terrapins won 80-64. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
COLLEGE PARK, MD - JANUARY 04: Kathleen Doyle #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes dribbles the ball during a women's college basketball game against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center on January 4, 2018 in College Park, Maryland. The Terrapins won 80-64. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

Despite their losses — one in particular — the new-look Hawkeyes embrace their new look

The Iowa Hawkeyes know their team will be dramatically different this season. Down three senior starters, one of whom happened to be the consensus national player of the year, the 2019-20 Hawkeyes have a lot to overcome.

But when your returners are Kathleen Doyle and Makenzie Meyer, there’s no shortage of experience — nor is there a shortage of hope that the team will return to the NCAA Tournament.

At Iowa’s media day on Thursday, head coach Lisa Bluder expressed unyielding optimism about the coming season in spite of the team’s losses.

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“The cast of characters may have changed,” Bluder said. “But the culture is the same, the joy of playing, the work ethic, all those things remain, and it all really begins with Kathleen Doyle.”

Doyle, the unanimous preseason All-Big Ten selection who will start the season on the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award watch list, led the Big Ten in assists last season. She also put up a handful of single-season career highs despite missing the first seven games due to a hand injury.

“She’s a competitor,” Bluder said. “She’s one of those kids that you kind of are glad you have on your team and you don’t want to play against her. She’s just a real emotional leader for us, and I think we really need that.”

Alongside Doyle in Iowa’s backcourt is Meyer, another assists machine last season and the team’s primary three-point shooter. With the Hawkeyes poised to be more of a perimeter offense team this season, Meyer’s distance shooting will be essential to the team’s scoring.

Bluder also announced that sophomore Monika Czinano will be Iowa’s starting center. Last season, Czinano saw action in 34 games, averaging 5.3 minutes and shooting 54.9 percent.

“She gets down there and she’ll rebound and she’ll seal hard, and I think that we’re all going to fall in love with Monika through her amazing attitude and work ethic through time,” Bluder said.

Bluder took special care to make it clear that Czinano and her predecessor are two different players — that comparing the two would only hinder the one who’s on the court this season.

“[Czinano is] better in some things than Megan [Gustafson] was,” Bluder said. “But I think that’s going to be something that really is holding her down all year if people keep trying to make that comparison, because they’re two different people.”

When asked who would be in the starting lineup if there was a game tonight, Bluder had a pretty good idea already: Doyle, Meyer, Czinano, redshirt junior Alexis Sevillian and redshirt freshman Kate Martin — that is, if senior Amanda Ollinger wasn’t available. Ollinger has dealt with a back injury on-and-off throughout her career.

But Thursday’s surety came from a summer of work — and, at the same time, a summer of fun.

“I think it’s fun for coaches to kind of, in the off-season, figure out what’s going to work best for the team you have coming back, and how kind of — what adjustments you can make, what kind of tweaks can you do to figure out how that best suits this team, and to me that’s the fun part of coaching,” Bluder said.

That “fun” was also taken up a notch this summer as Iowa played three games in Spain. Bluder was excited about the opportunity to get the 10 extra practice days that come with a foreign tour, especially with the transition the roster is undergoing.

Aside from Doyle (who missed the first game in Spain due to competing with Team USA at the Pan American Games in Peru) and Meyer putting in consistently good performances abroad, Ollinger had at least 10 rebounds in each game, and double-doubles in two of them. Martin also impressed on the trip, averaging 10 points per game.

It’s for all those reasons and more that Bluder and her staff are excited for this season.

“This team has a mission to … prove people wrong,” Bluder said. “They have an opportunity — again, they’ve kind of got a chip on their shoulder a little bit. We know what we lost. We lost three key ingredients, three terrific starters that had tremendous experience for our basketball team, but this team is not ready to throw up the white flag.”

And after learning all about this year’s Hawkeyes squad, in case you’re still wondering — no, there’s no date yet for Gustafson’s jersey retirement ceremony.

Stray Bluder quotes:

  • “Drake is expected to have one of its best teams for a long time, so we’re excited to bring Drake in and glad that we didn’t have to go over and play them in Des Moines.” (Iowa hosts Drake on Dec. 21)
  • “Maybe you don’t want your starting point guard from the last four years on an opposing team, but that’s the way it is, and it’ll be fun to welcome Tania back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.” (2019 Iowa graduate Tania Davis is a graduate manager at Clemson, who Iowa drew in this year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The game is on Dec. 4)
  • “… It’s going to be interesting having a sister duo on the team. Again, it’s kind of unusual, and Megan [Meyer] is a lot like Makenzie [Meyer] as far as her three-point shot capabilities, and I just maybe have to keep them away from each other sometimes, but it’ll be fun to have both of them there.”
  • “[Leading the Big Ten in attendance] just shows you how this state got behind the team, and I’m hoping that we can keep that excitement going and keep bringing those people back to Carver because I think they did fall in love with the women on our team, and I think that it’ll happen again this year.”

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