By Sean Bock
The Iowa women’s basketball team will kick off the regular season against Quinnipiac at 5 p.m. today in Carver-Hawkeye as part of the Hawkeye Challenge.
Head coach Lisa Bluder sits at 699 wins, and a victory tonight or Saturday night will make her one of the 10 active coaches with at least 700 wins. But it won’t be easy.
“Our Hawkeye Challenge is not a typical way people open up their seasons,” Bluder said. “A lot of people start their seasons with cupcakes, an easy win, and obviously, our challenge is very difficult.”
The Bobcats are one of the seven nonconference foes the Hawkeyes will face this season that made an appearance in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
The Bobcats finished 29-7 last year and were ranked No. 23 at the end of the season. Quinnipiac made it all the way to the Sweet 16 before falling to eventual national champion South Carolina.
The Hawkeyes will have a huge task on their hands with junior wing Alyn McClure, who was named MAAC Preseason Player of the Year.
“They like to play at a super-fast pace, and sometimes we get caught up in that pace,” forward Hannah Stewart said. “Then when we dial it back and play our game the way we know how to play, it works to our advantage.”
In her sophomore season, McClure averaged 9.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.5 blocks, and 1.4 steals, meaning she affects the game in a multitude of ways.
Another headliner on the Bobcats is junior forward Jen Fay, who averaged 10.4 points per game last season and is the leading returning scorer this year.
The Hawkeyes are coming off their exhibition victory over Minnesota State-Moorhead on Nov. 5, but they will need to play well for all 40 minutes to get past Quinnipiac today.
“Obviously, we don’t have the numbers, we don’t have the bodies, we just have to be focused, we have to be gritty, and we have to do whatever it takes to go out there and get a W,” Tania Davis said. “They are a really good team, making it to the Sweet 16 last year. We just have to do whatever Coach Bluder tells us to do, and go out there, and fight until the end.”
Forward Megan Gustafson was her usual self on Sunday, scoring 22 points and going 10 of 14 from the field.
Gustafson will likely go up against Quinnipiac 6-2 forward Sarah Shewan. A senior, Shewan averaged 7.4 points and 4.9 rebounds as a junior and will be a tough test for Gustafson down low.
Senior Chase Coley also had herself an outing in the opener, scoring 8 points and 10 rebounds. Coley’s presence gives the Hawkeyes another weapon in the paint, which could prove to be a problem for future opponents.
On Saturday night, the Hawkeyes will go to battle against either No. 16 Missouri or Western Kentucky at 4:30 p.m.
“I always look to have a tough schedule to prepare ourselves for the Big Ten season,” guard Kathleen Doyle said. “We’re really excited to test ourselves and, hopefully, get a few wins.”