By Susan Harman
IOWA CITY, Iowa – After last season’s Iowa-Minnesota game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena Iowa stalwart Monika Czinano insisted that she had blocked a shot by her little sister, Minnesota’s Maggie Czinano. But instead a foul was called.
“I remember very vividly,” Maggie said, laughing. “She fouled me and I made a free throw, so basically I scored on her.”
The two sisters may continue that debate indefinitely, but it won’t be on the court. Monika, Iowa’s all-Big Ten center who finished her career as the school’s third-leading career scorer, was drafted into the WNBA by Los Angeles but didn’t make the team. She is now playing in Budapest, Hungary.
“Monika came back (for Christmas) from Budapest, so my whole family was able to be there, which was awesome,” Maggie Czinano said. “My dad’s family lives in Budapest. So that’s kind of where she’s always wanted to play, and she has family over there so it makes it quite a bit easier.”
Maggie says Monika knew the odds of making a WNBA roster were slim, having been drafted 26th.
“It’s so hard, and she knew how hard it was to make a roster,” Maggie said. “But she was there. She was at our childhood home when she got drafted, and I think she was just so excited for the opportunity. She was in tears. She took it all in and gave it her all. She knew she wanted to play in Budapest; she knew that was kind of where she was going. So whatever happened, happened, and she ended up where she wanted to be.”
The WNBA is still interested in Monika’s progress, but that’s not her only iron in the fire.
“She’s also studying for the MCAT right now,” Maggie said. “So she’s also deciding where she wants to take it, but she’s keeping her options open.”
Monika previously voiced her hopes to become a podiatrist after basketball was over. Maggie said big sis has two differently sized feet for which she’s received help, and Monika is motivated to help others in similar situations.
Maggie’s basketball life has changed too. Last year as a sophomore she was surrounded by a highly regarded freshman class that included four 4-star recruits. That involved its own kind of adjustment.
“It’s kind of crazy because being the oldster on the team was definitely hard,” Maggie said. “Last year kind of felt like my freshman year in a way. I had so many injuries and so many things that didn’t go my way my freshman year. So I had to really mature fast last year in order to kind of be a leader for the freshmen coming in. So using that and continuing to mature as these freshmen mature has really been beneficial for us.”
This year Minnesota has a new coach, Dawn Plitzuweit, the “freshmen” are a year older, and the team has added a solid junior post (6-5 Sophie Hart) and another outside shooter (freshman Grace Grocholski). And Czinano has yet another role to play.
Her primary on-court role was defense a year ago. She is listed as a 6-foot guard, although she’s played four different positions for the Gophers. This offseason she focused on perimeter shooting.
“I’ve always been a driver at heart; I love getting to the basket,” she said.
She’s worked on being able to get shots from different areas of the court, and improving her 3-point prowess is a key.
The team is 11-1 overall, 1-0 in the Big Ten, with its only loss coming to UConn at Williams Arena.
“Last year has really helped us a lot. I think these sophomores feel a lot older on the court than they are,” Maggie said. “I think this year we play so well together and kind of know our tendencies. That’s something I admired so much about Monika’s team when she was at Iowa. They just knew each other so well, and they knew what was coming and they knew each other’s tendencies.
“And I think we’re starting to understand each other a little bit better.”
The Gophers lost junior post Rose Michaeux to Virginia Tech after the coaching change. They also lost feisty guard Katie Borowicz, who was forced to retire from basketball because of a medical condition in her brain. But even in the transfer-portal era the rest stayed.
“I think we just had a lot of conversation with each other when we knew Coach (Lindsey) Whalen (was leaving),” Maggie said. “Personally, we came here to build something, and I don’t think we want to stray too far away from that. We all kind of had this mutual respect for one another that we wanted to keep going with what we’ve built and what we’ve had. We love it here. I think it also helps that we’re all from Minnesota. That’s definitely a big part of it. We just wanted to keep doing what we came here for.”