CEDAR FALLS — The Missouri Valley Conference released its preseason women’s basketball poll Tuesday and Northern Iowa was picked to finish third, behind Missouri State and Bradley.
Reigning conference champion Missouri State is coming off of a 26-4 season with a 16-2 MVC record in 2019-20. The Bears return two of their top three scorers from a season ago, and other than seven first-place votes for Bradley, are widely expected to defend their conference championship.
UNI finished 18-11 last season with a 10-8 MVC record, fifth in the standings. The Panthers can attribute their preseason pick to returning two key veterans, their top five scorers and a recruiting class of six freshmen that enter the program regarded as the best class head coach Tanya Warren has ever brought to Cedar Falls.
UNI’s two veteran returnees are senior guard Karli Rucker — who was selected to the preseason all-conference team — and forward Megan Maahs.
Rucker started all 29 games last season and averaged 13.7 points and 3.7 assists per game. Meanwhile, Maahs started 24 of the 25 games she played in, scoring 9.2 points and grabbing 5.2 rebounds per game. The trio that makes up the rest of UNI’s top-five returning scorers includes guards Kam Finley and Nicole Kroeger and forward Bre Gunnels.
Despite finishing in the middle of the MVC last season UNI registered wins over Iowa, Iowa State and Drake in the same season for the first time in program history.
The Panthers have not announced their non-conference schedule, but will begin MVC play on Dec. 31 at Illinois State.