Women Hawkeyes focus on school, then basketball

BY JON FRANK | DECEMBER 16, 2010 7:10 AM

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Despite a five-day, three-game stretch approaching for the Iowa women's basketball squad, on-court performance takes a back seat to academic achievement in the midst of finals week.

Team practice sessions have been shortened and even canceled to accommodate exam preparation. Head coach Lisa Bluder said the team took Monday off and will abstain from practice today to ensure the student-athletes are allotted proper preparation time.

On the bright side for the coach, academic ineligibility is not an issue.

"It's really nice going into final weeks not worrying about how we're going to do," she said. "Like having to worry are they going to study or not. I don't. I don't have to baby-sit them."

Sophomore Jaime Printy said that she dreads finals week. But she and her teammates are used to juggling homework, practice, and games.

"We all know that we have to do school work if we want to play," the Marion native said. "Our team is actually really smart, too … We always focus on academics first."

The Hawkeyes have four players on their roster who were Academic All-Big Ten selections last season — senior Kelsey Cermak, juniors Kamille Wahlin and Kelly Krei, and sophomore Hannah Draxten.

"It's wonderful that we have great student-athletes," Bluder said. "They do understand the value of an education. They are very concerned about finals. They want to do well because they want excellent grades. Not just because they have to stay eligible."

Not named to the Academic All-Big Ten list last season but one of the highest classroom achievers on the team, sophomore center Morgan Johnson actually sees finals week as somewhat of a break from a hectic balancing act between school and basketball.

"During finals week, it's actually a little bit easier," the Platte City, Mo., native said. "We don't have to travel, so that's been really nice."

As a high-school senior, Johnson was named the Kansas City Star Scholar-Athlete of the Year for her performances on the court and in the classroom.

In her collegiate career, the biology major has a 3.91 GPA. She plans to apply for Integrative Physiology in the coming semester and has aspirations of attending medical school.

For Johnson, success in the classroom is her chief concern.

"School's always been first," she said. "It's what's going to get me through my life. It's my main goal. Basketball is something fun, it's a relaxer. Something I do in my free time. I feel like it's still really important to me, it's just second to [school]."

Johnson's interest in the medical field springs from her mother's occupation as a physical therapist.

"I want to do pediatrics, possibly pediatric cardiology," she said. "I swore I'd never go into the medical field, ever. And here I am."

Johnson laughed and proceeded to point to two upcoming Friday finals, one in Biology II, the other in Anatomy.

"They're hard. I just have to pass these. Nothing I can't handle."

Johnson said her mother always encouraged her to focus on academics before basketball. Despite her early success her first year and a half as a college student, she knows the road ahead will continue to challenge her as workloads increase in the classroom.

"It's just really difficult planning ahead and staying ahead in school," she said. "Not falling behind. That really is key to everything."

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