By John Bohnenkamp
She learned from one of the best.
Monika Czinano’s freshman season at Iowa two years ago was an education. She was the backup post to Megan Gustafson, who would finish her career … let’s see … as the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder, a consensus first-team All-American, and national player of the year.
If you’re going to get an education, it might as well be from someone like that.
It showed last season when Czinano, now a starter, finished second in NCAA Division I play in field-goal percentage, and was a key part of a team that went on to win 23 games and finish third in the Big Ten.
Now Czinano is in the mentor role for freshman Sharon Goodman, a highly-touted in-state recruit who averaged 27 points in her senior season at Crestwood High School.
The evolution from student to starter to teacher is something Czinano enjoys, even if it does feel a little strange to her.
“Understanding that I’m a veteran now is something I’ve kind of had to wrap my head around,” Czinano said. “I was like, ‘Whoa, when did I get here?’ kind of.
“But it’s been an eye-opening experience. I’ve never had to do it vice-versa, like Megan did for me.”
It’s made for some competitive moments in practice, but Goodman is appreciating the lessons.
“I already feel like we have a great relationship,” Goodman said. “There’s such a legacy here for post players. Her accepting me into that, too, has been very nice and very encouraging. Yeah, I think we have a great relationship already.
“I’m just here to push her, and compete with her too.”
Czinano said the two were “shooting buddies” over the summer.
“She’s been picking up everything so beautifully,” Czinano said. “I never really understood this when Megan was doing it to me. It’s nice — you kind of get a little, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s doing it so well.’ In practice, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, great job, Sharon.’”
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder appreciates Czinano’s teaching.
“I think she’s doing a great job leading,” Bluder said. “I think as a sophomore (last season) we needed her to work on so many other things and concentrate on so many other things that I didn’t want that to be on her plate, as well, but she is a leader just because that’s the type of person she is.”
Czinano played in 34 games in her first season as Gustafson’s backup, without many minutes.
But last season she started 28 games. Czinano’s field-goal percentage of .679 was second-best in the nation, behind Oregon’s Ruthy Hebard at .685, and she finished the season as a first-team All-Big Ten selection.
“Yeah, I’d be silly to say that I wouldn’t be surprised,” Bluder said. “I mean, come on. She comes from being really a very role player her freshman year to being the second best field goal shooter in America. Who wouldn’t be surprised by that? That was remarkable.”
Czinano thinks she can put up a better percentage.
“I’m trying to improve it, honestly,” she said. “Better than what it was last year.”
Even playing the role of teacher, Czinano knows she has much to learn.
It’s something Bluder appreciates.
“I’m so excited to have Monika for a few more years, and I think she’s just continued her growth over the past year,” Bluder said.
Photo: Iowa’s Monika Czinano shoots during a recent scrimmage. (hawkeyesports.com)