IOWA CITY, Iowa – Ally Disterhoft ponders the question. It’s harder than she’d imagined.
Iowa’s junior guard can’t quickly decide to what she’s looking most forward when the team arrives in Italy this week. Finally, she hones in on something.
"The food. I think we’re all very excited for the pasta," Disterhoft says with a big smile and wide eyes.
Here at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Monday, the Hawkeyes ran through the last of the 10 practices allowed by the NCAA to teams taking foreign trips. Tuesday, they were scheduled to leave on their 11-day tour of Italy that will see them play three games.
"We are all beyond excited," sophomore forward Chase Coley said. "We have all been talking about it forever and it’s just crazy that it’s tomorrow (Tuesday)."
The coaches and 14 players will head out on the 9 1/2-hour trip. Two athletes, Christina Buttenham (leg) and Tania Davis (shoulder), will be on the tour but held out of action with injury.
"Tania was doing great. That’s the one bad thing in our last 10 days is that we lost Tania with a dislocated shoulder," Head Coach Lisa Bluder said.
Davis is expected to absorb some of the loss created by the departure of all-American Point Guard Samantha Logic, who was the 10th overall pick in June’s WNBA Draft.
"We’ve taken x-rays. We’ve had MRIs. It was the best-case scenario for a shoulder dislocation but we’re not going to chance anything over there," Bluder said.
The rest on the Hawkeyes will be provided with their first opportunity to face outside competition without a heavily-relied upon senior class from a year ago. In addition to Logic, the only player in NCAA history with at least 1,500 points, 800 rebounds, 800 assists and 200 steals, gone too are all-Big Ten performers Bethany Doolittle, a center, and Melissa Dixon, the school’s all-time leading three-point shot maker (334).
"Hopefully, we’re going to minimize that adjustment period (without last year’s seniors on the Italy trip). That’s the goal. I think we’ve done a great job this summer of taking advantage of the time we’ve been given in these three-hour practices to kind of figure each other out and figure out how we’re going to make things work this season," Disterhoft said.
Disterhoft is coming off a second-team all-Big Ten performance last winter that saw her lead the team in scoring (14.8 PPG) and post-season surgery to repair a ruptured tendon in her right hand. She said Monday that she’s 100 percent and took part in all of the pre-Italy practices.
Iowa also returns sophomore Whitney Jennings, who slides into Logic’s starting point guard role after playing more than 30 minutes a game last season mostly off the ball. She, Coley and Kali Peschel are among a group of players expected to shoulder more of a load this year. The Italy trip can represent a sizable step in that direction.
"I’m looking to help make the freshmen better, make everyone around me better," Coley said. "My teammates have helped me a lot. My skill level has increased so much thanks to their help, motivation and pushing me in practice."
In addition to their on-court performance, Iowa lost a lot of leadership when Logic, Doolittle, Dixon and Kathryn Reynolds graduated. Bluder has hoped to see who emerges to take their place in Italy and beyond.
"That will really be interesting in a game-setting over there. Who rises?," the coach said.
Disterhoft, the former Iowa City West standout, has played a key role during her first two seasons at Iowa. Now, she’s moved into an increased leadership position. She had an idea of what she hoped the Hawkeyes would accomplish overseas.
"Just building that team chemistry that has really been a staple of our program for a really long time. We go over there for 11 days and we only play three games. It’s not a ton of basketball but it’s those experiences off the court that really help you bond," she said.
Iowa will bring four freshmen with it to Italy. While Davis sits, Megan Gustafson, Hannah Stewart and Tagyn Larson will attempt to blend in with the veterans.
"I remember four years ago, Sam Logic hits a buzzer-beater to win us our first game over there (in Italy)," Bluder said. "That was pretty telling, wasn’t it, as to what’s going to happen in the next four years. You look forward to those type of moments."