By Jordan Zuniga
The Iowa women’s basketball team is red hot, jumping out to a 10-1 start to the 2017-18 campaign.
Trying to continue that run, the Hawkeyes will head to Cedar Falls to take on Northern Iowa at 2 p.m. Dec. 17.
It’s Iowa’s penultimate nonconference game of the season, but these seem to mean just a little bit more to Lisa Bluder and her bunch. While their goal to win never changes, the next two game provide more motivation the Hawkeyes because both are in-state rivals.
Having already knocked off Iowa State, Iowa needs just two more to claim the state’s Division-1 women’s basketball crown.
“I feel like we’re all trying to compete for this ‘state championship,’ ” Alexis Sevillian said. “Just having that title, it means a lot to our coaches, it means a lot to us, so that brings a lot of fire to us individually.”
After the Hawkeyes’ game against Northern Iowa, they will head home to take on Drake on Dec. 21.
A crisp national No. 25 placed next to the Hawkeyes on TV Sunday might be one way to boost Iowa’s elite status, but collecting wins against the stae’s major teams cements that claim.
Iowa was the last to do it just three years ago, during the 2014-15 season.
Another reason for the extra motivation in their upcoming games is a particular connection one particular Hawkeye has with her next two opponents. Before she was a coach, Bluder was just another college student, taking finals 90 miles up the road from Iowa City in Cedar Falls. She also played for Northern Iowa.
Then, Bluder’s first coaching job was in Des Moines, coaching Drake.
While she is long removed from both, a little of the sentiment remains, slightly more so with Drake.
“I was [at Drake] for so many years,” Bluder said. “When you work for someplace, you put your heart and soul in it. When you’re a player, you love the place, but you’re not consumed with it 24 hours a day like when you work someplace.”
Beyond the excitement of facing two in-state opponents, this past week and the one to come provide a much-needed breather for the Hawkeyes.
After a stretch in which they played seven games in 18 days, they are in the middle of an identical period with just two games scheduled.
Some players might worry about losing a step or two from the time off, but Tania Davis relishes the time off and uses as much of it as possible to get better.
“I love it,” she said. “Just self-improvement, that’s our big thing right now. It makes practices harder, but as long as we’re improving ourselves first, we’re fine with it.”
The semi-break may prove extremely beneficial for the Hawkeyes, because once the pace picks back up, it’s conference time, and five of their first seven conference games are on the road (3 weeks).
Some may find the long road between games tiresome, but the Hawkeyes are glad much of the traveling occurs during a time away from academics.