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CEDAR FALLS — Few question marks surround this year’s University of Northern Iowa women’s basketball team.

Head coach Tanya Warren enters her 12th year at the school with nine players back who averaged at least 10 minutes a game for more than 30 games last season.

“We’re a month into practice and I love this team,” Warren said. “I love our competitiveness, I love our work ethic and I love our versatility.

“We have the potential to play a big lineup, the potential to play a traditional lineup and we have the potential to play four guards and one post.”

Point guard Kennedy Kirkpatrick is the lone regular who graduated from last year’s team. Sophomore Karli Rucker is set to take control of the offense after averaging 12 minutes per game off the bench a season ago.

Warren says she has placed an emphasis on trying to push the ball in transition more frequently, while working inside-out in the halfcourt with preseason all-conference center Megan Maahs the centerpiece. While UNI’s coach still sees plenty of room for growth from her sophomore, she added that Rucker has made a nice jump forward.

“She’s explosive off the dribble, has done a nice job of being able to get to the rim, and shoots the 3 well,” Warren said. “If she can understand the importance of the vocal piece of the leadership, she has a chance to be very, very good.”

True freshman Alyssa Iverson has shown strong floor vision and ball-handling skills and will serve as Rucker’s back-up. Iverson has been out of practice with an injury the past three weeks, but Warren is hopeful to have her available for the season-opener against Delaware in the Preseason WNIT on Nov. 9.

Fifth-year senior Ellie Howell — a first-team all-Missouri Valley Conference selection two seasons ago — can also move from her starting off-guard role to the point when necessary.

“Ellie knows the game so well that she knows every position,” Rucker said. “Any time you have a question about offense, defense, anything, she’s always been there with that helping hand.”

Howell, in turn, has enjoyed seeing her sophomore teammate find her voice.

“I have a lot of confidence in Karli,” Howell said. “She’s been able to step out and lead a little bit more because she’s had to. Last year she wasn’t really placed in that role where she had to take over.

“Every day in practice having her take charge of huddles, that kind of thing has stepped up her game and it’s given her more freedom to just play how she plays. Running the offense, she gets to set the tempo. She likes to play fast-paced and that kind of works well with the style of our team.”

UNI will continue to run numerous sets on offense and throw a variety of looks at opponents with a defense that has been consistently one of the MVC’s best. Finding more efficiency on offense remains Warren’s top objective.

The Panthers finished 19-14 a year ago despite shooting just 39 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3-point range.

Senior Mikaela Morgan could be one of the keys to growth. Morgan made just 28 percent of her 148 attempts from distance a year ago, but has showcased an improved shot in practice after working with her older brother, Jeremy, this past summer in Cedar Falls before Jeremy left to join his professional basketball team in Finland.

“It was really fun getting to hang out with him a lot,” Mikaela Morgan said. “We worked more on slowing down my shot. Sometimes I like to shoot pretty quick and it kind of throws me off a little bit, but I kind of found a rhythm and he helped me find that rhythm.”

Maahs, a consistent double-double threat, has worked on developing a perimeter shot in addition to finding more comfort going over both shoulders in the post. She’ll be a valuable foundation for what figures to be an improved offense.

“Megan is one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever been around,” Warren said.

Senior Taylor Hagen and junior Heidi Hillyard join underclassmen Bre Gunnels, Cynthia Wolf and Kiana Barney as options at the 4 or 5. Rose Simon-Ressler will move from the 4 to the 3, and joins junior Abby Gerrits, Nicole Kroeger and Kam Finley as perimeter options.

Marissa Robson, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, will redshirt after offseason knee surgery.

While Howell and Kirkpatrick averaged 30 minutes a game last season, Warren feels she’ll be able to rely on her bench more this campaign.

“I think we should be able to use our depth and really wear some people down,” Warren said.

2018-19 schedule

  • Nov.
  • — 4: Upper Iowa, 2 p.m., 9: Delaware, 8:30 p.m., 20: Creighton, 6 p.m., 23: at Long Beach State, 5 p.m., 24: vs. Boise State, Long Beach, Calif., 2 p.m., 30: at IUPUI, 6 p.m.
  • Dec.
  • — 4: North Dakota, 7 p.m., 16: at Iowa, 2 p.m., 19: Minnesota State, 5 p.m., 21: Omaha, 6 p.m., 29: at Kansas State, 1 p.m.
  • Jan.
  • — 4: at Illinois State, 7 p.m., 6: at Bradley, 2 p.m., 11: Valparaiso, 7 p.m., 13: Loyola, 11:30 a.m., 18: Drake, 7 p.m., 25: at Evansville, 6 p.m., 27: at Indiana State, 1 p.m.
  • Feb.
  • — 1: Southern Illinois, 7 p.m., 3: Missouri State, 2 p.m., 8: at Loyola, 7 p.m., 10: at Valparaiso, noon, 15: at Drake, 6 p.m., 22: Indiana State, 7 p.m., 24: Evansville, 2 p.m.
  • March
  • — 1: at Missouri State, 7 p.m., 3: at Southern Illinois, 2 p.m., 7: Bradley, 7 p.m., 9: Illinois State, 2 p.m., 14-17: MVC Tournament, Moline, Ill.

2018-19 schedule

  • Nov.
  • — 4: Upper Iowa, 2 p.m., 9: Delaware, 8:30 p.m., 20: Creighton, 6 p.m., 23: at Long Beach State, 5 p.m., 24: vs. Boise State, Long Beach, Calif., 2 p.m., 30: at IUPUI, 6 p.m.
  • Dec.
  • — 4: North Dakota, 7 p.m., 16: at Iowa, 2 p.m., 19: Minnesota State, 5 p.m., 21: Omaha, 6 p.m., 29: at Kansas State, 1 p.m.
  • Jan.
  • — 4: at Illinois State, 7 p.m., 6: at Bradley, 2 p.m., 11: Valparaiso, 7 p.m., 13: Loyola, 11:30 a.m., 18: Drake, 7 p.m., 25: at Evansville, 6 p.m., 27: at Indiana State, 1 p.m.
  • Feb.
  • — 1: Southern Illinois, 7 p.m., 3: Missouri State, 2 p.m., 8: at Loyola, 7 p.m., 10: at Valparaiso, noon, 15: at Drake, 6 p.m., 22: Indiana State, 7 p.m., 24: Evansville, 2 p.m.
  • March
  • — 1: at Missouri State, 7 p.m., 3: at Southern Illinois, 2 p.m., 7: Bradley, 7 p.m., 9: Illinois State, 2 p.m., 14-17: MVC Tournament, Moline, Ill.

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