IOWA CITY — Lisa Bluder has been able to keep the dodge balls and Wiffle ball bats packed away in a storage closet this season.
The Iowa women’s basketball coach said Wednesday that this year’s Hawkeye team is all about the business of working to become the best it can be.
"Every team is a little different, every year is a little different," Bluder said on the eve of Iowa’s departure for its first NCAA Sweet 16 appearance in four years.
The last of the seven Iowa teams to reach this round of NCAA play dropped an 81-66 game to Baylor in the regional semifinals in 2015 in Oklahoma City.
Bluder has always tailored preparations to the team she is working with, saying that the routine leading up to the Hawkeyes’ 10:30 a.m. match against North Carolina State in Greensboro, N.C., will differ from what that 2015 team experienced.
"It’s always about getting a good read on what works and what doesn’t with the particular group you have in a given year," Bluder said.
"Some years, I’ve had teams that have had a hard time staying focused to the point where we’ve brought out Wiffle ball bats and dodge balls to capture their interest."
That’s not the team Bluder is currently working with, the 28-6 team that carries a No. 8 national ranking into its game against the 10th-ranked Wolfpack.
"This team would have none of that stuff at all," Bluder said. "This group is all business. They embrace the grind. That’s the personality of this group — let’s get after it."
It’s an approach that senior post player Megan Gustafson said centers on the team’s work ethic and objectives.
She said last season’s 76-70 loss to Creighton in the opening round of the NCAA tourney still gnaws at a number of Hawkeyes.
"We didn’t maximize our potential, and we’ve been working every day since to make sure that we reach our potential this year," Gustafson said. "We’re not there yet."
Bluder sees that attitude play out daily as the Hawkeyes practice, appreciating the workmanlike approach Iowa has toward the game and in its preparation for upcoming opponents.
She pointed out that the Hawkeyes and Wolfpack flipped between the second and third seeds they ultimately earned throughout much of the season.
"We’re getting ready for a tough opponent," she said.
After playing in front of NCAA record first- and second-round crowds that totaled 23,096 who watched Iowa play its way to the Sweet 16, Bluder watched her team quickly turn its attention to its upcoming game and season-long objectives.
"We took Monday off, but by Tuesday they were all about it being time to get back to business," Bluder said.
"Only three women’s teams at Iowa have ever made it to the Elite Eight. They want to make it four. Only one team here has won 29 games. They want to make it two. They know there is a lot of work still to be done."