CEDAR FALLS — Three WNITs and one NCAA Tournament appearance in the last four years have entrenched Northern Iowa women’s basketball as a consistent player in the Missouri Valley Conference. Entering her 12th season, head coach Tanya Warren is thankful for all who have helped along the way while not being shy about what’s been built.
“We can just sell the fact that you look at the continued success,” Warren said. “When we came here 12 years ago our vision was to build a program, not just a team. One of the things that we talk about is we’re the only team in the Valley to finish fifth place or higher (for) nine consecutive years.”
The foundation of sustained success Warren has built in Cedar Falls appears poised to continue as the Panthers return nine players who played at least 10 minutes a game last season. Warren believes those returnees will make up a deep rotation and play the biggest role in the season’s potential success.
“I’ve talked a lot about the bench and the productivity of the bench,” Warren said of the returning depth. “We really feel that we have several kids that can be in that starting rotation, but it’s really important that we develop our bench and we’re able to go to our bench and there not be a drop-off.”
UNI’s returnees are led by leading scorer Megan Maahs. Maahs averaged 10.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game last season and will continue to be at the center of the offense. Warren praised Maahs’ offseason work on Monday and said her biggest hurdle is dealing with her personal expectations of perfection.
“(Megan) has to understand, and she’s working on it and she’s doing a really nice job, of understanding she’s going to miss a couple shots and that’s okay,” Warren said. “We’ve worked with Megan a lot on facing up and shooting the three with consistency. Going over both shoulders equally. Really just being comfortable taking (what) the defense gives her.”
UNI’s backcourt is where the biggest change is set to take place. Sophomore Karli Rucker will takeover as starting point guard after playing just 12 minutes per game as a freshman. Warren said Monday she’s confident Rucker’s freshman experience will pay dividends now that she’s the starter.
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“Karli’s made a nice jump,” Warren said. “She’s pretty explosive off the dribble. What we’ve really talked to Karli a lot (about) is really understanding the flow of the game. When to push and when to pull it back and get us into something.”
Former Iowa City West prep Mikaela Morgan, who’s entering her senior season, was described by Warren as the leader of UNI’s defense. Morgan says she takes pride in defense and having that belief from her head coach before describing the expectations her and her teammates have for themselves.
“We’re looking to do something great this season,” Morgan said. “Being able to have some (players) who are familiar back this year gives us a little of an advantage.”
UNI’s season tips off Nov. 9 at McLeod Center against Delaware.