IOWA WOMEN: Czinano ready to create her own post presence

By John Bohnenkamp

IOWA CITY — The comparisons, of course, will be there, and Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder realizes the unfairness of that.

There’s no more Megan Gustafson on the roster — the Hawkeyes’ all-time leading scorer and rebounder, and the national player of the year last season, is now in the WNBA.

The circle of life in college basketball has rotated back to the next post presence for the Hawkeyes, and she, too, understands that.

“We’re two different people,” sophomore center Monika Czinano said during Tuesday’s media availability as the Hawkeyes prepare for a three-game tour of Spain starting with Wednesday’s seven-hour flight from Chicago to Madrid. “But there’s so much I can learn from her. And I am still learning from her, even if she’s not here.”

It started to sound like Bluder was drifting into that comparison territory before she quickly shifted her words.

“Monika, I know she’s got big shoes to fill,” Bluder said. “I know everybody is going to be comparing her to Megan, because she’s playing really well as a sophomore (who) literally got little time last year. She is just coachable, she’s a quick learner, she embraces the contact like Megan did down there.”

Then came the changes in gears.

“So, do her a favor and don’t compare her to Megan,” Bluder said. “Compare her to a post player. She’s a good post player.”

Right away, the first question to Czinano was about “the great Megan Gustafson,” and she laughed.

“The fact that we say her name like that says how great she was,” Czinano said.

Czinano doesn’t mind being next in line behind the player who set records at Iowa that may become eternal. Next in line meant she was going against Gustafson in practice last season, and it was an education that Czinano found invaluable.

“Oh, what didn’t I learn?” Czinano said. “It was kind of a whirlwind. Seeing how physical the Big Ten was was a huge point. How much more work you have to put in in college compared to high school. Megan’s work ethic was indescribable. It was amazing. I’m kind of trying to mirror that the best way I can.

“At first (playing against Gustafson), it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I understand it now.’ She’s won all of these awards and I was like, ‘Yeah, it makes sense.’ But yeah, it was super fun to learn all of the defenses playing against her. If she would make a tough shot I would be like, ‘Dang. But it’s Megan.’ It was definitely invaluable.”

Czinano averaged 5.4 minutes last season. She averaged just two points and 0.9 rebounds, but this was a season to learn. Gustafson and forward Hannah Stewart anchored the two posts in Iowa’s offense, and this was a chance for Czinano to figure out the shift from high school to college without the pressure of having to do too much too soon.

“I think it was great for her to go up against Megan every single day, and Hannah ,” guard Makenzie Meyer said. “She’s played against two very good posts. She’s learned a lot from them.

“You can see her performing every day.”

The Hawkeyes will have a new offensive look this season. Bluder will move back to a one-post offense, letting her guards run. It’s an offense Iowa has used in the past, but it was kind of packed away as Gustafson dominated and Stewart’s game developed.

Now, Bluder said, the Hawkeyes will use four guards — heck, maybe even five. It’s a return to Iowa’s past, and it will ease the post burden as Czinano continues to learn.

Czinano didn’t mind waiting her turn last season. There was an education to gain.

“My teammates and my coaches have done a great job of taking pieces of Megan’s game, and incorporating them into mine,” Czinano said.

She smiled.

“My name is Monika, not Megan.”

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