IOWA CITY — Yes, the date is circled on Megan Gustafson’s calendar.
Nov. 29. Notre Dame. At South Bend.
“As soon as I found out, we were yelling, ‘Look who we’re playing!’” Gustafson said about the Hawkeyes’ crack at the top-ranked, defending NCAA champions. “It’s going to be a great matchup.”
She lowered her voice.
“I think we can take them.”
The battle with the Irish — it’s part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge — is the highlight of a typically aggressive non-conference schedule.
“It’s demanding,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said. “Same old stuff.”
The Hawkeyes (24-8 last season) open their regular season with Oral Roberts on Nov. 9, then it’s a road trip Nov. 13 to Western Kentucky, an NCAA qualifier last year. They’ll participate in the Junkanoo Jam (Nov. 23-24) in the Bahamas, playing West Virginia and possibly Florida State.
As remains the case in women’s basketball, all three in-state rivals are on the schedule. None of those are gimmes, particularly Drake on the road Dec. 21.
The Big Ten hasn’t been able to settle on a 16- or 18-game slate. This year it’s back up to 18, and it begins Dec. 30 at Michigan State. The key league game might be Feb. 17, when Cedar Rapids native Brenda Frese brings Maryland to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Meet the freshmen
The season opener is more than a week away, but Logan Cook already has noticed a big jump in the level of play from high-school ball to the college game.
“I definitely notice a faster pace, and a more physical game,” said Cook, who led Iowa City West to a Class 5A state championship last season. “I want to get as strong as possible so that I can contribute.”
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A 6-foot-1 forward, Cook is one of four freshmen on the roster, joining Monika Czinano (6-3, center, Watertown, Minn.), Tomi Taiwo (5-10, guard, Carmel, Ind.) and Kate Martin (6-0, guard, Edwardsville, Ill.).
Martin suffered a torn ACL over the summer and will redshirt this season.
Bluder said Cook, who made more than 16,000 shots throughout the summer, is “a much better stretch shooter than I thought she would be.”
Czinano probably will be the top backup in the post behind Gustafson and Hannah Stewart. Taiwo gives the Hawkeyes an additional long-range shooter.
Revenge, sort of
Creighton ended the Hawkeyes’ season last year, 76-70, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
It won’t go down as an official game, but the Hawkeyes gained a tiny bit of revenge — or at least satisfaction — in their “secret scrimmage” recently.
“We had a little chip on our shoulders,” Makenzie Meyer said. “After the NCAA, we really wanted to get them.”
Bluder said, “It was a really productive scrimmage. Both teams really gained a lot. We came into the summer using (the early NCAA exit) as motivation.”
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