The Hawkeye women won 19 games, ended the regular season with eight straight wins and finished tied for second in the Big Ten.
They lost their first game in the Big Ten Tournament and first game in the NCAA Tournament, so it wasn’t a great finish.
I sat down with assistant coach Shannon Gage last week in her new office in Carver which has a great view, unlike her old office.
Shannon was Director of Basketball Operations for the Iowa women’s basketball team from 2003-05. She was assistant coach at Michigan from 2005-07 and has been with the Hawkeyes ever since.
Iowa opened the season 5-2 and finished the non-conference schedule 8-5.
The Hawks had good wins over UNI, St. John’s and Virginia Tech, with a tough overtime loss at K-State.
“We felt like K-State was a team we matched up with,” said Shannon. “We knew it was going to be a difficult game to go in there and win.”
Iowa also had a tough loss against the Bradley Braves, 96-88, although Morgan Johnson scored a career high 37 points.
The Braves countered with 59 percent shooting from three-point range.
The Hawkeyes opened the Big Ten season blowing out Northwestern, 86-55.
“It was a great way to start the conference season,” said the coach. “Coming out and being able to play at home. Northwestern is not an easy win. They beat Nebraska at Lincoln.”
Iowa would win only two more games in the first half of the Big Ten season, starting 3-5, 11-10 overall.
If the Hawkeyes wanted any chance of making a run at the NCAA tournament they would have to start now.
That wouldn’t be easy with Purdue coming to town. The Boilermakers were ranked 13th in the nation and were undefeated in the Big Ten.
The Hawks started slow, got some bench help from Theairra Taylor and Virginia Johnson, and took a 23-21 halftime lead.
Iowa outscored Purdue 36-21 in the second half, won the rebound battle 54-38 and cruised to a 59-42 victory.
“We had talked to our team about the NCAA tournament,” said Shannon. “All of these games mattered and we needed that top 25 win. At that time we felt like this is our last chance to get it done.”
That was the start of an eight-game winning streak, but not without major challenges.
The next game was at Wisconsin and the Hawks won in overtime, but Jaime Printy was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of injuries over the years,” said the coach. “It seems like it’s become a requirement.”
Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald and Shannon Gage might have done their best coaching job getting the Hawkeyes to rally with Jaime out.
Freshmen Samantha Logic and Melissa Dixon stepped up, as did the rest of the team.
“Our team, they made a choice,” said Shannon. “They dealt with adversity, they corralled around each other, they fought back and I can’t tell you we knew this would happen, but as coaches you put people in position to win. We took it one game at a time.”
Iowa finished the regular season 19-10, 11-5 in the Big Ten which tied for second.
The Hawks got a three seed in the Big Ten Tournament and a first round bye.
Iowa was knocked out by Nebraska, which had beaten the Hawks twice during the season, in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament but had enough wins to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Iowa faced a strong California team that jumped out early and then held off a late Hawkeye rally and Iowa’s season ended with an 84-74 loss.
That certainly wasn’t the way the Hawkeyes wanted to end the season, but with three starters returning, they have a lot to build on.
Seniors Morgan Johnson and Jaime Printy will be back to lead the Hawks.
Both Morgan and Jaime have been starting for three years until Jaime got hurt. Hopefully she will be ready to go by the start of the season.
Trisha Nesbitt, a point guard that has been injured a lot, is also back for her last year.
“Trisha and Morgan are our vocal leaders on the floor,” said Shannon. “Trisha knows what to say and when to say it.”
Theairra Taylor will be the only junior on the team. She came on strong during the season after recovering from her third knee surgery.
The five freshmen will now be sophomores and showed improvement during the season.
Samantha Logic, the top recruit of the class, stepped up when Jaime went down and made the All Big Ten freshman team.
Samantha started all 30 games, averaged 9.4 points and led the team with 125 assists.
Melissa Dixon played in 23 games, starting seven. She averaged seven points, shot 37 percent from three-point range, which was second best on the team and was also a good defender.
Bethany Doolittle played in all 30 games and shot 46 percent from the floor, which was second best behind Morgan.
Virginia Johnson, when she was healthy, showed why she might be the best athlete on the team. She had problems with concussions and is still on the mend.
Kathryn Reynolds played in 21 games but tore her ACL last week and might have to redshirt next fall.
One of my favorite parts of talking to Shannon is hearing about the new recruits, and Iowa has four coming in next season.
Kali Peschel is a 6-1 guard from Sauk Center, Minn. She is a two-time all state selection and was named conference MVP twice.
“She could play the one or two positions,” said coach Shannon. “She’s a good addition, a great shooter and a good ball handler.”
Nicole Smith is a 6-4 center from Rockton, Ill. Nicole tied an Illinois record with 21 blocks in a game as a sophomore.
Clair Till is a 6-0 forward from Dubuque Wahlert high school. She is a two-time all state selection and grew up a Hawkeye fan.
Kayla Timmerman is a 6-3 forward from Plymouth, Minn.
“Tough kid,” said Shannon. “Strong shoulders who initiates contact. I like that kid. She’ll give us that little bit of edge that we need.”
It will be fun to watch them play in Game Time this summer, although Nicole and Clair might be rehabbing their knees.
I would say right now without looking at who is coming back in the Big Ten that Iowa should be one of the top four teams in the league.
They host the first round of the NCAA tournament, so it’s important to start out strong and finish like they did this season.