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Replacing Theiarra Taylor

BY KYLE MANN | NOVEMBER 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Iowa women’s basketball team is entering this season with a considerable amount of preseason recognition. Returning four starters from a team that made it to the Big Ten Championship game, the Hawkeyes and basketball community know that they have a strong foundation ready to run the table from day one. 

The only question facing the team right now is simple: Who will lay claim to that final starting spot?
Seniors Sam Logic, Melissa Dixon, and Bethany Doolittle have had outstanding careers as Hawkeyes — and along with impressive sophomore, Ally Disterhoft — form an imposing starting lineup. But head coach Lisa Bluder is currently working to determine who will join them when the season begins on Nov. 9. 

Though still undecided, Bluder is narrowing her possibilities, and has her eye on three specific players vying for that fifth spot.

“I think it really comes down to three people,” Bluder said. “That’s Lex [Kastanek], Kali [Peschel], and Whitney [Jennings].”

Peschel, a 6-foot-1 forward, has the most experience of the trio, started for roughly half of last season, and therefore would appear to be the predictable, incumbent starter.

The junior logged 4.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in 2013, averaging 18.3 minutes and starting in 19 of the team’s 36 games. She led the team in rebounds four times early in the season, and also had season-highs of 15 points and 14 rebounds.

Peschel embraced her role last season, even after being moved from the starting lineup to the sixth man role. She has maintained her selfless, team-first attitude through the offseason, but recognizes that she has an opportunity to reclaim her spot.

“At this point I’m willing to do anything that the coaches ask of me; whether that’s starting or coming off the bench and putting in significant minutes,” Peschel said. “But the opportunity is there.”

Bluder is aware of the existing talent in her starting lineup, but when it comes to key factors that will determine whether the team has a successful year, who is going to step up after the first four is a pivotal question to be answered.

“I think everybody really knows what to expect out of Logic, Dixon, and Doolittle, and really also Ally Disterhoft,” Bluder said. “So in my opinion, it’s going to be who can be that fifth, sixth, seventh player on our basketball team that people don’t know about.

“Right now it’s too early to predict that, but you’d hope somebody like a Kali Peschel will step into that role. Or maybe it’s going to be one of our freshmen, like Whitney Jennings.”

Though only a 5-foot-5 freshman, Jennings will be vying hard for playing time as soon as the first whistle sounds.

Jennings was Indiana’s 2014 Miss Basketball, Gatorade Player of the Year, and was selected as a Parade All-American. The guard averaged 32 points, eight rebounds, 7.4 assists, and 5.1 steals per game as a senior, and drew comparisons from Bluder to 2006-grad Crystal Smith.

“Whitney is one of the quickest ball handlers that I have ever coached. But not only can she handle the ball; she’s an excellent passer especially in the full court, she’s got a nice three-point shot, and a great pull-up jumper,” Bluder said. “I don’t know how you keep her off the floor. It’s a great problem to have.”

Kastanek will have a chance as well after impressing the coaching staff with her progress over the offseason. After averaging 4.1 points, 1.1 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in 12.7 minutes per game as a freshman, the sophomore guard from Lincoln, Nebraska has seen this opportunity coming since the end of last season.

Despite multiple players competing for only one spot, Kastanek aligns with the rest. Whoever ends up claiming the title of fifth starter, Iowa fans can be sure of a couple things; first, it’s going to be a talented player, and second, the others will be happy playing what role is best for the team.

 “I’ve been working hard and staying focused on our team goal,” Kastanek said. “Obviously it’d be a blessing for me to start, but if I’m coming off the bench I’m fine with that. Whatever helps the team and is getting us wins, I’m just playing my role.”


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