Despite losses, future may be bright


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With the 2015-16 season still months away, Iowa women’s basketball head coach Lisa Bluder has time to mull replacement options for departed guards Sam Logic and Melissa Dixon, as well as forward Bethany Doolittle.

A player of the caliber of Logic — now in the WNBA with the San Antonio Stars — can never truly be replaced. While the team will without a doubt lack the experience it enjoyed last season, it does bring back several players poised to take over as leaders for a program with eight-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

Ally Disterhoft enters her junior year seemingly ready to take the reins from Logic as the team’s centerpiece. Senior forward Kali Peschel figures to spend a lot more time on the floor without Doolittle in the picture. Guard Whitney Jennings has her freshman season behind her, and she can make a big leap in her second year; the Hawks will want her to take more responsibilities in the backcourt.

A wealth of other contributors, including Alexa Kastanek, Chase Coley, Claire Till, and Christina Buttenham, should see a jump in playing time, too.

Three freshmen also come in with high expectations and the talent to back it up. Based on the way they played in this summer’s Game Time League, their No. 17 ranking as a class by ESPN so far seems warranted.

While the jump from competition in a summer league to the Big Ten and Division-I basketball is notable and significant, the freshmen showed that at least, they can provide depth and balance.

Here’s what we know about the class so far:

Tania Davis, G

She came into the summer as a five-star recruit and former Miss Basketball of Michigan, and she was arguably the best player after Jennings in Game Time (Disterhoft only played two games).

Averaging 22.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game, Davis looked like a savvy veteran among her future teammates. League coaches praised her intelligence on the court, and her athleticism at guard seemed to be matched only by Jennings.

It will be interesting to see where Davis plays to start the season. The Hawks have options at guard, but it’s not inconceivable the team would start Davis at the point, Jennings at 2, and Disterhoft at 3 — then have such options as Kastanek and a slew of hybrid guard-forwards coming off the bench.
Whatever unfolds, Davis already seems to be a key component of next year’s team.

Bluder’s take: “You’ve got to keep your eyes on her when she’s got the ball in her hand, which I think is really fun.”

Megan Gustafson, F

Gustafson could be one of the semi-hidden gems of the 2015 class. ESPN ranks her as a four-star, which is good, but she could well leave college as a better player than that rating gives her credit for.

At 6-3, Gustafson played like easily a top-five player in Game Time. Her presence in the paint was overwhelming, both from a rebounding and scoring standpoint.

She looked like the best post player in the league, which included Doolittle. No one had an answer to her strength and athleticism down low.

Again, the league lacked the type of post players that Gustafson will see in the Big Ten, but what she provides is an immediate option to soften the departure of Doolittle.

In high school, she became the only player in Wisconsin history to score more than 3,000 points in a career. She’s incredibly effective with her left hand, which can be hard for opponents to defend.

She’ll need to become better with her right so offensively she’s not so predictable, but Gustafson looks like an immediate and valuable piece for the Hawks this coming season after averaging 21.2 points and 14.2 rebounds in Game Time.

Bluder’s take: “Not only is she a great player, but those types of players just aren’t there in the country anymore. There are very few players that want to play with their backs to the basket. She’s just a blue-collar post who wants to get it done and wants to embrace the contact.”

Hannah Stewart/Tagyn Larson, F

Larson sat out Game Time recovering from injury, but Stewart gave glimpses of another promising player down the line.

Another four-star recruit, Stewart has the body type to develop into a standout at the college level.

She’s 6-2 and strong, and she showed off the athleticism to run the floor and take the ball down in transition. She averaged 17.6 points and 11.6 rebounds per contest in Game Time, but she does have growing to do before she gets steady playing time.

The physical tools and upside is there; Stewart just needs time in the gym to refine such fundamentals as shooting, footwork, and ball-handling to become the type of player she can be.

She may be limited in minutes her freshman season, but her versatility could get her on the court if she can prove to contribute off the bench.

Bluder’s take: “Hannah and Tagyn both offer us great size at the wing, and that’s exciting, because we’re a little small with Whitney and Tania at our guard spots. But, boy, those guys add us some extra length.”

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