Iowa City, IA -- "It's going to be different because we have different weapons out there now, but it's still the same Iowa Basketball that everyone likes to watch," said sophomore Chase Coley.
The Iowa Women's hoops team graduated three of their most impactful players in program history last year. The senior trio of Sam Logic, Bethany Doolittle, and Melissa Dixon collectively scored the most points ever in Big Ten Conference history by the end of last season.
"Those are big shoes to fill, the three that we lost, but we're going to fill them in different ways," said sophomore point guard Whitney Jennings.
This Iowa program is the only team in Big Ten history to grasp a bid to the NCAA Tournament for eight consecutive seasons. In the 2014-2015 season, the Hawkeyes finished in the Sweet Sixteen of The Big Dance, and was ranked 11th in the nation on the postseason USA Today Coaches Poll.
The Hawkeyes are currently ranked 23rd on the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll that was released on November 2nd.
"We kind of like that role of the underdog, though," said Head Coach Lisa Bluder of the 23rd ranking, "It doesn't bother us. We're celebrating the fact that we're 23rd but we kind of like that role of proving everybody wrong."
"I personally think the rank is great recognition for our program and everything that we've accomplished." Said Jennings.
To say that Bluder's program is suffering the graduation of Logic, Doolittle and Dixon would be an exaggeration. "It was a big loss, but we're trying to focus on what we do have coming back," said Bluder. "Our freshman class is ranked 17th best in the country, and on top of that we're deeper and faster than we were last year."
The depth of this young team is something to keep on the radar as well. Ally Disterhoft will return for her junior season after finishing last year as the leading scorer. She was also the only Academic All-American sophomore in the country last year and named to the 2015-2016 preseason All-Big Ten Team by the coaches.
The sophomore point guard Whitney Jennings, who shared some time with Logic last year, will likely share time with freshman Tania Davis, who was the 12th best point guard in the nation out of high school.
"It's fun to see how much we can change up our lineup because we're a pretty agile team," said Chase Coley, a sophomore forward.
Coley and Megan Gustafson are currently in the race to replace Doolittle. "Chase will beat you down the court, bring you out away from the basket, and then beat you off the bounce. Then we have, Megan, who wants to get on that block and be physical," said Bluder on the duo. "These two will make it harder for their opponents to prepare for because they're two completely different centers."
This Hawkeye team currently has eight underclassmen of their fourteen-player roster. With this idea of youth surrounding the team, the biggest concern is the lack of experience.
"You can't practice experience," said Bluder on her concerns for the younger players. "No matter how many repetitions you do, being in the game-like situation with the lights on, with the TV cameras going, with the fans in the stands and the pressure of it actually calling on your win-loss record, you can't emulate those situations."
With the depth and youth of this Hawkeyes' team, Jennings was quick to answer that the ultimate goal remains the same - "Year in and year out Iowa wants to finish near the top of the Big Ten and make it back to the NCAA Championship."