CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa women’s basketball coach Tanya Warren went “old school” with her team during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We actually took some time as a team and we wrote some handwritten letters to some people who have been influences in our lives and have helped us get where we are,” Warren said. “We did some different things that social media has taken us away from.”
Yes, there have been Zoom meetings. Lots of them.
Warren even had team dinners on Zoom during the pandemic.
But things started to feel somewhat normal again once UNI’s upperclassmen could return to campus on June 29 and its freshmen arrived on July 1. A month later than usual and none too soon for Warren.
“I’m really over the virtual meetings. It’s good being able to see them (on Zoom), but just being able to speak with them — and you’re not really supposed to hug them, but you have to hug them — but just being able to see them and hear them and see how excited they were to be on campus (was great).”
Warren says she was a “kid in a candy store” once team activities resumed last month. The simple sight of seeing her team do drills and compete against one another made it obvious to her how easily things in our lives are taken for granted.
Her Panther team returns first-team All-Missouri Valley honoree Karli Rucker, last season’s leading scorer (13.7). Second-team All-MVC honoree Megan Maahs also returns as one of the league’s best interior players.
Expectations are sure to be high after an 18-win season in 2019-20 and Warren says the pandemic hasn’t held Rucker or Maahs back in finding ways to improve this offseason.
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“Those two young women have had the best summers since they’ve been here from a conditioning and a strength standpoint,” Warren said. “And what I was able to see in the time that we was able to practice with them, both have made a tremendous jump. If those two young women can stay healthy, I think, boy, there’s a lot to look forward to because I know they’re extremely driven and they want to end their senior year on the best note possible.”
Meanwhile, UNI’s freshman class of six factors into its high expectations, as it has been regarded as the best Warren and her staff have brought to Cedar Falls in her 12 years as head coach.
Asked about incoming freshmen contributing this season Warren said, “absolutely.”
She describes Maya McDermott from Johnston as a true point guard who scores and offers high-level court vision, Kayba Laube from Marion as a knockdown shooter, Emerson Green of Cedar Falls as a versatile, two-way weapon, Grace Boffeli from North Scott as a scrappy, inside-out scorer, Maya Gyamfi from Urbandale as a developmental talent and Taryn Scheuermann as an inside-out scorer.
“When you have the core returning that we have, with what we have coming in, it’s a great mix that will help this young class really improve from day-to-day.”
When it comes to preparing for an uncertain season Warren’s approach is similar to her peers.
“What we have to be able to do is continue to have the mindset that we’re going to play and prepare as if we’re going to have a full season,” Warren said. “Until we know otherwise that has to be our mindset.”