Czinano Embraced The Education Of The Past

Iowa's Monika Czinano (left) embraces Megan Gustafson after a win over Nebraska last season. (Jeffrey Becker/USA Today Sports)

John Bohnenkamp

Monika Czinano knew that she likely would be the one to fill the spot of the legend.

So, it was best to learn from the master when she had the chance.

The Iowa center, a freshman last season, was the one who had to go up against Megan Gustafson in practice every day.

That’s the Megan Gustafson who roared to the top of the program’s record book in scoring and rebounding, was a first-team All-American last season, and oh, also, claimed just about every national player of the year honor.

That Megan Gustafson.

So Czinano took every opportunity to learn from Gustafson. It meant getting her shots blocked, and Gustafson's shots consistently snapping the net over her, but failure was not only understood, it was looked at as an opportunity.

“It’s helped tremendously already,” said Czinano.

Czinano was, at 6-foot-3, not a player used to getting challenged by bigger, stronger players during her career at Watertown-Mayer High School in Minnesota.

So, coming to Iowa City and going against Gustafson was humbling, but Czinano understood it was an education.

“In the beginning, in high school, you don’t get your shot blocked a lot,” she said, laughing. “You don’t go against All-Americans every day. It was a learning curve. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning, even this year. My whole four years, I’ll be learning.

“But it was massively helpful to see her moves, and compare them with mine. Try to weave them together while not, like, copying. It was a whole game of seeing how Megan did things. Kind of trying to say, ‘Oh, that worked for Megan in the Big Ten. Maybe I can try to work on that.’ All that kind of stuff started in practice.”

Czinano understands the inevitable comparisons that are coming — she declared during a summer media availability that, “I’m Monika, not Megan.”

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder emphasized that point on media day.

“Monika is going to be our starting center this year. Please do her the favor of not comparing her to Megan Gustafson,” Bluder said. “She's not Megan, she's her own person. She's better in some things than Megan was (as a sophomore). But I think that's going to be something that really is holding her down all year if people keep trying to make that comparison because they're two different people.”

Bluder has been impressed with Czinano.

“Monika has an amazing work ethic,” Bluder said. “She has an incredible attitude. She soaks up information like a sponge, and she loved playing behind Megan all year and learning from Megan, and I'm excited about Monika because she embraces contact, she doesn't back away from it.

“There's so many post players — I know we haven't seen them here because Megan did enjoy that contact — but there's so many post players around America that don't enjoy that, and she does. She gets down there and she'll rebound and she'll seal hard, and I think that we're all going to fall in love with Monika through her amazing attitude and work ethic through time.”

Czinano learned to appreciate the little successes against Gustafson.

“A good practice for me would be if (Gustafson) would miss once, and then I could say, ‘Yeah, it was my defense,’ or something like that,” Czinano said with another laugh. "I would get really excited when Megan would miss. She was just a phenomenal player, and still is. I do think it truly made not just me better, but anyone who would watch her as well.”

Czinano averaged 5.3 minutes per game last season as Gustafson’s substitute at rest points during games. Czinano averaged 1.9 points and 0.9 rebounds, but showed that she had some offensive skills — she had 15 points and seven rebounds in a win over North Carolina Central. She had 1,643 points and 1,035 rebounds in her high school career.

There is another education coming for Czinano — the Hawkeyes are going back to a one-post offense that will feature more running and a perimeter-based attack. That will take some pressure off her, but it still has its lessons.

“The summer was a lot of, for me, learning how it was going to be a completely different role,” she said. “And how to fit that role, how to look in that role, how to play in that role. It was a lot of working like that.”

The post is her position now. It doesn’t belong to the past.

“It’s definitely going to be a change for me in my expectations,” Czinano said. “It’s just for me to know that to continue to remind myself that I’m Monika, and who I am can always be improved upon. Just continue to work hard, do as much as I can in the role.”

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