From hunter to hunted; Iowa ready to exceed high expectations

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Over 90% of the point production of the Iowa women’s basketball team is returning from the 2020-2021 roster. While the roster looks similar, the expectations are not the same.

They are ranked 9th in the preseason AP Poll after making their way to the Big Ten Championship game the previous season, which they followed up with a March Madness run to the Sweet Sixteen. At the team’s media day on Thursday, the Hawkeyes made it clear they understand they are no longer the underdogs. Game in and game out, they will have a target on their backs.

“Yeah, I love it,” said Iowa senior Monika Czinano. “I have experience on that Elite 8 team. I’ve been in this position before. It’s so important not to take any opponents for granted. Everyone is going to push us to make us better. No nights are off nights.”

With that comes pressure, and the Hawkeyes believe they can rise to the challenge and then some.

“Going on the run to the Big Ten Tournament Championship and then the Sweet Sixteen. I mean, that’s something you want to build off of,” said Iowa sophomore Caitlin Clark. “You want to play your best basketball in March and April. There’s a lot of learning areas for us, in that regard. We know what it takes to get there but we only want to get further so we know we have to do more this year.”

Back-to-back appearances in the Big Ten title game and the Sweet Sixteen would be enough to satisfy most teams, but not this Iowa group.

“I think the expectations are just to go even further,” said Iowa junior Kate Martin. “We made it to the Big Ten Championship game last year. This year we obviously want to win it. We made it to the Sweet Sixten, but we want to go farther. I think we can be a Final Four team this year. Those are the expectations.”

Meeting those expectations will not come without obstacles to clear. Playing with nothing to lose and a chip on your shoulder comes with a different attitude than when you are on a ranked team and being chased.

“We’re not used to being the hunted, right? We’re not used to that,” said Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder. “Sometimes I feel like we play a little bit better with a chip on our shoulder and people not expecting a lot out of us. We’ve talked about that as a team, that we have to change our mentality a little bit. It is a mental change that you have to do. Maybe I need to go talk to Tom Brands and talk to him about that. He’s pretty good at it.”

That mentality is not something you can choose when you have it and when you do not. It has to be locked in all season. Iowa begins their quest for a season of progress and dominance on November 9th in Iowa City, as they host the New Hampshire Wildcats.

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