CEDAR FALLS - A key cog on the stingiest defense in Iowa 5-on-5 high school girls' basketball history, protecting the hoop has always come second nature for Jess McDowell.
It's on the offensive end where the Northern Iowa women's basketball team is ready to expand the role of the AGWSR grad.
"Jess has always been able to defend. She gives us hustle plays, but now we're going to call upon Jess to score a little bit more," said UNI coach Tanya Warren.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
Northern Iowa junior forward Jess McDowell poses for a photograph during the Panthers’ media day event Oct. 7 at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls. McDowell, an AGWSR graduate, is one of only four upperclassmen on the UNI roster heading into the upcoming season.
"I think she's ready for that. She seems to be very confident in everything that she's doing and that's great to see."
McDowell, one of just four upperclassmen on the Panthers 2012-13 roster, has already backed up her coach's comments with her recent performance leading up to her junior season. UNI will need it, as they must replace their top three scorers - responsible for 61 percent of the team's offensive output - from a year ago.
"Jess had a very, very good summer. It showed not only when we started our preseason and have now started practice, but she also did a great job in Game Time - the summer league in Iowa City," said Warren.
Competing alongside her fellow Panthers as well as members of the University of Iowa women's basketball team, the Steamboat Rock native averaged 9.6 points per contest on 49 percent shooting from the field, while also grabbing 7.6 rebounds a game in the summer league.
"(Jess) is shooting the basketball extremely well and she's shooting it with a lot of confidence, which Jess has not done up until this point," said Warren.
Part of AGWSR's record-setting defense, which allowed a state-best 23.08 points per game during the 2008-09 campaign, McDowell consistently displayed her offensive prowess for the Cougars, but has yet to have the same opportunity in her collegiate career.
Twice named the Times-Republican All-Area Player of the Year, McDowell averaged 2.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 16.4 minutes per outing for the Panthers last year but should get many more looks at the basket as she sees an increase in floor time. The expanded role will also allow McDowell to provide more of her high-energy defense where she snagged 29 steals for UNI last year, fifth-best on the squad.
"Jess will play quite a bit of minutes for us. She'll play the 4 and she'll play some 5 for us," said Warren.
The 6-foot-1 forward and three-time Iowa Newspaper Association All-State selection has proven she's a threat from the outside. After attempting just four three-pointers in her junior year with the Cougars, McDowell expanded her offensive repertoire knocking down a team-high 32.8 percent (21 of 64) from behind the arc in her senior season.
"I'm looking forward to playing a lot more at the 4 and being out on the perimeter more. I'll still kind of have the same role on defense, but being on the outside - there should be some more (scoring) opportunities," said McDowell, who tallied averages of 13.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists in her stellar senior campaign, while leading the Cougars to a 26-0 record and Class 1A state title. McDowell earned first team all-state honors from both the INA and the Iowa Girls Coaches Association for her performance.
The return of Jacqui Kalin, the 2010-11 Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, should free up shots for McDowell and the rest of the Panthers. The sixth-year senior will command a fair share of the defense's attention after averaging 15.3, 14.2 and 13.3 points per contest in her three seasons with the Panthers.
"We really missed (Jacqui) last year. I'm excited to be back on the court with her, because it's been a while," said McDowell.
Last season's talented senior trio of K.K. Armstrong, Rachel Madrigal and Katelin Oney left a lasting impact on McDowell - one she hopes this year's veteran quartet can have on a squad largely comprised of underclassmen.
"Not only will I miss them on the court, but I'll miss them off the court to. They were three of my closest friends," said McDowell of last year's senior crew.
"Now it's time to step into their shoes and try to lead the team as best I can along with Jacqui and the other seniors."