Dating to the start of her coaching career at St. Ambrose, Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder has annually built teams around their own unique strengths.
That philosophy allowed Iowa to thrive last season by playing a game centered on the skill set of consensus national player of the year Megan Gustafson in the post.
It will also help the Hawkeyes move forward following Gustafson’s graduation following Iowa’s run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament and a school-record 29-win season.
“We’re not married to a system like some coaches, never have been, and I feel over time that has really benefited our program,’’ Bluder said prior to making an appearance at the Hawkeye Fan Event at the Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf last week.
Bluder said her staff has spent the past three-plus weeks formulating plans for just what the Hawkeyes could look like as they prepare to replace not only Gustafson, but Hannah Stewart inside and Tania Davis on the perimeter as well.
“We’ll be a different looking team next season, but the culture will still be there,’’ Bluder said. “That part of it doesn’t change.’’
The Hawkeyes return an all-Big Ten guard in Kathleen Doyle, who is among 35 players participating this weekend in USA Basketball’s Pan American Games team trials in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
For Iowa, Doyle will be part of an offense that will likely shift to more of a four-out, one-in look next season after being built around the strengths of its inside attack the past few years.
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“We have the perimeter players to make that work and at this point, I feel like that’s where we are headed heading into next season,’’ Bluder said. “We’ve had success with four out and one in before and I think we’re excited about the possibilities.’’
Bluder, who has led Iowa to 18 postseason appearances in her 19 seasons with the Hawkeyes, considers putting the different pieces of the personnel puzzle together one of the more enjoyable aspects of her job.
“Every year, things are at least a little different and figuring out how to put it all together and make it work, that’s coaching,’’ Bluder said. “We’ve been talking about it for nearly a month now as a staff. Certainly when you lose somebody like Megan who has led the country in scoring the past two years, it’s going to be different.’’
The Hawkeyes will get an early opportunity to test things out.
Iowa begins the first of its practices prior to the foreign trip it is allowed to take once every four years in a little over a month.
The Hawkeyes will travel to Spain in early August and with a significant amount of roster turnover, including the addition of four freshmen to the program, Bluder believes this is the perfect time for that trip to occur.
“We’ll get a chance to experiment a bit, see how things work and see how they don’t work,’’ Bluder said. “If we try something that isn’t working, we can leave it behind overseas and we still have some time to figure things out before season starts.’’