CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s women’s basketball team fell short of its goal at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament last weekend, losing in the semifinals to eventual champion Missouri State.
But the Panthers season didn’t end there, receiving the MVC’s at-large bid to the WNIT — its seventh all-time under Coach Tanya Warren.
UNI (20-12, 12-6) will take on Minnesota (20-10, 9-9) Friday night at 6:30 in Minneapolis, and while the NCAA tournament always is the goal, Warren said the team has respect for its postseason opportunity.
“To be able to continue to get the national respect that this program has been able to get — I think it’s nine out of the last 10 years and five straight — says a lot about the past and present young women in this program,” Warren said. “As well as the past and present staff.”
Participating in postseason play is especially important to Warren because it allows senior Mikaela Morgan the opportunity to extend what’s become an accomplished career.
“(Mikaela) will probably be one of my greatest successful stories in terms of how she has grown into a young woman and matured over the years,” Warren said. “To know that she’s going to go out and win in life, boy, it makes me smile and it makes my heart go pitter-patter because she has grown into a phenomenal young woman.”
Morgan said Warren is “like another mother to me” and echoed her coach’s sentiments by pointing to her growth off the basketball floor as what she’s most grateful for. Looking back on her maturation as player, she still distinctly remembers one of her freshman mistakes.
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“We usually show up 10 minutes early to film and us freshmen showed up like five minutes (early), maybe, because we wanted to go get something to eat,” Morgan said, adding with a laugh “so, senior Mikaela would know not to show up five minutes before film.”
The Iowa City West alum ranks third in scoring (8.9 ppg) and second in minutes played this season (28.5 mpg). She has scored 850 career points, including a career-high 268 this season.
Her greatest memory is Selection Monday 2017 when she shared the joy of UNI’s first at-large bid to the NCAA tournament with her teammates.
Without knowing how many more games are left in her career, Morgan said she feels “blessed” for the chance to play at least one more game in her UNI jersey.
“The four different teams that I’ve been on have been really great,” Morgan said. “So, it’s meant a lot. It’s just kind of like another family of mine and it’s going to be hard to leave it.”