NORTH LIBERTY Iowa women’s basketball players have been working this summer with intentions of duplicating the team success of a year ago in the coming season.
One Hawkeye has been working a little extra hard this summer to make sure this season doesn’t turn into a personal replay of last year.
While Iowa was matching the second most wins in program history last season on its way to an appearance in the Big Ten title game and an NCAA tournament berth sophomore Nichole Smith was battling through injuries and a difficult personal season.
Smith missed the first 25 games last season after undergoing a fifth knee surgery that nearly cost her the entire season.
Now healthy, Smith is working hard to make up for lost time and has put the injuries and the disappointment of the past behind her.
“Last year was a tough year, but I just tried to keep motivating the team as much as I could. Watching the success the team had, it was hard sometimes being injured, but seeing the team succeed like that was still an awesome feeling,” Smith said. “We are looking forward to a really great year this year, and I’m looking forward to be a part of that.”
The 6-foot-4 Smith has been dealing with injuries seemingly her entire time in Iowa City.
The Rockton, Ill., native played in seven games as a freshman and was limited to just five games a year ago.
Finally healthy, Smith is working on making up for lost time.
Smith scored 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds Wednesday as her Cullen Painting/Joensy’s Iowa City team dropped a 97-71 decision to Marion Iron Company/Vinton Merchants in the Game Time League at the North Liberty Community Center.
Smith has scored at least 18 points and grabbed at least eight rebounds in every Game Time League game this summer, including a 28 point, 10 rebound performance and a 20 point, eight rebound, six assist outing.
“I feel really good,” Smith said. “I’m getting way more comfortable playing again. It takes a little bit of time to get back into it, but I feel really good.”
On Wednesday, Smith got a chance to see just how far she has come as she spent most of the game matching up with teammate and all-Big Ten selection Bethany Doolittle.
Doolittle, who emerged as one of the top post players in the conference last season and had 30 points and eight rebounds on Wednesday, was impressed with what she saw from Smith on Wednesday and all summer.
“She is getting a lot more physical and making a lot of good reads,” Doolittle said. “She has that confidence now after getting back from the injuries, and she is playing more to her capabilities.”
For Smith, the summer has been all about work.
The junior to be said she wakes most mornings about 5 a.m. for workouts and has focused on developing her strength.
Smith said that when it comes to playing in the Game Time League, she has focused on her rebounding and post moves.
“I’ve worked on some things on the court, but I wanted to get a lot stronger,” Smith said. “I knew that was something I had to improve on.”
For Doolittle, just seeing Smith back on the court has been encouraging.
“She’s been battling injuries pretty much the whole time that she has been here, and seeing her healthy and being able to run up and down the floor and get better this summer is awesome,” Doolittle said. “It’s tough on anyone with injuries like that but she has handled it awesome, it’s definitely been awesome watching her get back and get healthy.”
On Wednesday, they were facing each other, but come this winter, could Iowa fans see the two 6-foot-4 players on the court at the same time?
“Maybe, we’ll see,” Smith said. “That would be awesome.”