Clark, Marshall, Martin, Warnock and Czinano. That’s been the Hawkeyes starting five for the past three seasons. Continuity and chemistry can’t be microwaved, and this year the Hawkeyes lose two members of their starting lineup.
McKenna Warnock and Monika Czinano are gone. Iowa retained Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin for the sixth seasons, but they also bring back the best player in women’s college basketball: Caitlin Clark.
And for head coach Lisa Bluder, that’s all she needs.
“We start the season without 40% of our starting lineup,” Bluder said. “But we also start the season with the nation’s best player in Caitlin Clark.”
Clark, of course, won the Naismith and every other award possible under the sun. She’s back for her senior season — and she thinks that change isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“This is a new team,” Clark said. “New players that are going to have new roles — even Kate and Gabbie, they’re gonna have to move into more prominent roles scoring the basketball.”
Martin and Marshall have played their roles to a tee, knocking down three pointers and providing grit and intensity on the defensive end of the floor. But besides an increased role in the scoring department, leadership is another responsibility the two will take on.
“Everyone knows we lost Monika and McKenna,” Marshall said. “We all know what they brought to this team. It’s important for us older girls who have been here a long time to make sure that they know we believe in them and build up their confidence each day.”
Opportunities are going to present themselves for players like Sydney Affolter, Molly Davis and Hannah Stuelke. Stuelke won 6th player of the year, but will now likely become a starter. Affolter and Davis may have opportunities as well, but they’ll for sure be relied upon much more than they were last season.
“McKenna and Monika put up great numbers and that leaves openings for new people to step up,” Affolter said. “And we’ll have the ball in our hands more this year. So because there’s more opportunities, which is nice, I’m ready for it.”
“I think that we’ve moved on from that,” Davis said. “And I think everyone has stepped up in a tremendous way and, you know, we’, I mean, we’ve got big shoes to fill, but I think we’re more than capable of doing so.”
“I’ve been waiting for this for so long,” Stuelke said. “Finally my dreams are coming true and I’m really excited.”
Associate head coach Jan Jensen just wants whoever plays to contribute in the areas they’re best in.
“We just need them to use their strengths,” Jensen told me. “And I think we need to let the guards really shine even more because they’re so gifted.”
Regardless of how the supporting cast shakes out, expectations are sky high. Carver-Hawkeye Arena is sold out for the season. Iowa will be on national television more than they ever have before. With the greatness of Clark comes expectations, but as Bluder said on Wednesday: Pressure is a privilege.
“I stole this quote from Billie Jean King many times,” Bluder prefaced. “I’m reading the book right now: pressure is a privilege. And so I think we have to remember that we’re in this situation of facing pressure, because we’ve done well — let’s enjoy that. Let’s rejoice about that. And so, try to enjoy it and not think about the overall picture but just enjoy every single day and it sounds so simplistic, but I think that’s the way that we have to handle it.”