116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa enters the 2021-22 women’s basketball season after achieving its deepest postseason run in program history a year ago with a WNIT semifinal appearance.
The Panthers return all but one regular from last year’s team and were picked third in the Missouri Valley Conference’s preseason poll behind Missouri State and Drake.
Fifth-year senior Karli Rucker, last year’s leading scorer (13.3 ppg), returns to lead a young roster with eight returning freshmen and a pair of sophomores.
“Every single year has been different and all the experiences have been different and there are ups and downs every single year,” Rucker said. “Yeah, (my) leadership is going to be important. I’m trying over (time) to bring that (vocal leadership) out of myself.”
Meanwhile, Coach Tanya Warren says she’s challenged Rucker to be more aggressive offensively this season.
“We are asking Karli in her final season to have more of a scoring mentality,” Warren said. “She’s earned that. She knows she’s capable of it. We need her to have that mindset from start to finish. Sometimes she passes up shots she probably should take, but we’re challenging her in that.”
Development from the Panthers’ younger role players — Emerson Green, Maya McDermott, Cailyn Morgan and Kayba Laube — will be key to exceeding the third-place preseason pick. Warren described Monday that playing through contact, scoring inside and getting to the free-throw line are areas they’ve identified to improve upon.
“Maya has made a nice jump. We’re expecting her to come off the bench with great pace,” Warren said. “Nicole (Kroeger), Kam (Finley), Emerson, Cailyn, Kayba all bring something different. We need Kam to be a consistent scorer for us this year. We need for (Emerson) to not only shoot the 3, but be consistent for us around the rim and she has to rebound for us as well. Kayba shoots the 3 extremely well. Cailyn Morgan is our utility player.”
Cynthia Wolf and Grace Bofelli will shoulder much of UNI’s frontcourt workload. Wolf, who averaged 6.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in a reserve role last season, is poised to start.
UNI’s non-conference schedule will provide a stiff test as it features a season-opener at St. Louis, a home-opener versus ninth-ranked Iowa, a road trip to 12th-ranked Iowa State, a multi-team event matchup against No. 14 Oregon State and games against Creighton and Wichita State.
“We need to (schedule strong) because the MVC is loaded,” Warren said. “It is good as it’s ever been since I’ve been here in my 15 years, from top to bottom.”