By Susan Harman
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa and Drake didn’t play last season because of a Covid-19 outbreak among Iowa’s players, interrupting a series that has been played 53 times. The two schools’ women’s basketball programs have been intertwined since Lisa Bluder left Drake 24 years ago to coach at Iowa, bringing along assistants Jan Jensen and Jenni Fitzgerald, both Drake grads.
The games are always a little difficult and a little emotional for Iowa’s coaches, and this one on Sunday at the Knapp Center in Des Moines will not be different. Between the first and second quarters Jensen will be presenting the Drake Loyalty award to Lisa Brinkmeyer, a former Drake player for Bluder and her staff, who has been stricken with brain cancer. Jensen was one of the people who nominated Brinkmeyer for the award.
“It’s going to be an emotional game for a lot of reasons but mostly for Lisa,” Bluder said.
Brinkmeyer, an official with the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, is one of the few Iowa girls athletes who can honestly be termed iconic like Debbie Esser, Denise Long and Lynne Lorenzen. She was the star player on the final six-player championship team (Hubbard-Radcliffe) in 1993 and excelled in every sport she tried. She was a top player at Drake even with some nagging injuries. She has a personality that attracts people, comforts and encourages. Then when her career took her to the IGHSAU it seemed like a marriage made in heaven.
Players and coaches will have to handle the emotion of the day and the challenges of their first road game after two lopsided home victories over inferior opponents.
Iowa had Drake scouted a year ago, and Bluder said they’re able to use some of that scout to prepare for Sunday’s game. They’ve also looked at some of the Bulldogs’ late-season games from a year ago and their opening victory over Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Drake has some size but probably cannot match Iowa’s physical play inside. What they will try to do is draw Iowa’s posts away from the basket.
“They are a little bit small ball in that they can shoot the three,” Bluder said. “They are a little bit more mobile. Our bigs have to come out and do a little bit more perimeter defensive action, handling screens, handling transition or handling the 3-point shot.”
Drake’s Maggie Bair, a 6-foot-3 senior, averaged 12 points and six rebounds a year ago. Sophomore Anna Miller, also 6-3, came off the bench and grabbed 14 rebounds against UWGB. She runs the floor very well. Grace Berg, a 6-0 senior, started her career at Missouri before transferring to Drake, is a scorer and can hold her own inside.
Former Iowa guard Megan Meyer is one of the starting guards for the Bulldogs. She averaged 12 points a year ago. “She’s an outstanding 3-point shooter, just as she was when she was here,” Bluder said. “She’s not just a 3-point shooter. She can create off the bounce.”
“We love Megan,” Iowa’s Caitlin Clark said. “We still see her. She’s an awesome person and has done a great job at Drake.”
Iowa heads to Kansas State for its next game on Thursday at 8 p.m. Bluder said she feels more comfortable taking a veteran team on the road this early in the season because players are used to the way things work, and they’ve played in plenty of hostile arenas. From here on out Iowa will be competing against instead of steamrolling teams.
“I’m super excited,” Clark said. “Our schedule includes NCAA-caliber teams. You want to play good teams.”