If you are like me you were exhausted at the conclusion of Sunday’s national championship basketball game. After Friday’s improbable victory over a previously dominant South Carolina team, I was worried about how our Hawks would do against an excellent LSU team. You could tell our squad put their heart and soul into Friday night and Sunday afternoon. The physical and emotional toll had to have been staggering. They didn’t have much left in the tank. I did nothing other than be a fan, and I was completely spent. My hat goes off to every coach, player, and any other person associated with the program. The Hawkeyes stacked memories on top of memories all season long. Let’s take a look back. It’s hard to imagine that this season started back in November (as far as games are concerned). To end the season in April is a long haul.
This season had the makings of being something special with everyone returning. Especially in this day and age of transfers, having the same starting lineup for 3 years is unheard of. I have never heard any definitive facts on this, but you would be hard-pressed to find any other program that could say the same, either in the past or going forward. That is a close-knit group and it showed. The Hawkeyes played a competitive non-conference slate that included Kansas State, Oregon State, UCONN, NC State, and Iowa State. The Big Ten was once again competitive with Indiana edging the Hawks out of the regular season title. The Hawkeyes ran the table in the Big Ten tournament in Minneapolis; this was my first in-person Iowa women’s game, and it will forever be a special memory. Finally, the B1G put three teams in the Elite 8 with the Hawks, Maryland, and Ohio State showing out on the big stage. And to get to the final game of the college basketball season? The Hawks rolled Southeast Louisiana and then beat four good/great teams in Georgia, Colorado, Louisville, and South Carolina. After each game, Hawk fans (and the nation for that matter) were wondering just how Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes could possibly improve on our last game. And you know what? They kept doing it. I decided to break it down and commented on many of our players. Here’s what I will remember:
Caitlin Clark is the alpha and the omega. I have never seen anything like her. I have Tweeted this a few times, but I was fortunate enough to have coached a 10+ year NBA player in high school. I also coached against players who have gone on to play (and excel) in the NBA, MLB, and NFL. I have never seen anyone like Caitlin Clark. My only comparisons are not fair to anyone, but they are named Jordan, Bryant, and Curry. Until recently I did not follow women’s basketball. I say this to let you know that I can’t use women players as a comparison, and that kind of sucks, but I’m (or at least was) a basketball coach and I see basketball as... well, basketball. Nothing more. Nothing less. That also takes me to why this season meant so much to me. I was able to see the crowds that showed up to watch these teams, the positive press, the young girls who one day want to be Caitlin Clark, or Monika Czinano, or Hannah Stuelke. The “next” person who writes about a “future” Caitlin Clark will be able to write about Aliyah Boston, Hailey Van Lith, Diamond Miller, Maddy Siegrist, Mackenzie Holmes, Zia Cooke, Paige Bueckers, or Ashley Joens. It is not hyperbole to say that Caitlin Clark and these women are leaving the jersey in a better place. Women’s basketball is flourishing, and that toothpaste is never going back in the tube.
Monika Czinano - What a pleasure to watch her play the game she loves. Coach Jan Jensen grew up playing old-school Iowa 6-on-6 basketball; my sister did as well and I always thought how lucky the forwards were. They could at least play offense. If you don’t recall, Iowa girls’ basketball was a half-court game where offensive players played offense against a defense and they stayed on one side of the court. Players could dribble twice. On a made basket the ball would be advanced via the referee. Wow, how different is that from this team and today’s game?!?!? With two dribbles, you need to have excellent footwork. That’s where the Post Whisperer comes in. Coach Jan Jensen is one of the best coaches of posts in all of basketball. Anyway, Monika took the torch from Megan Gustafson and went with it (without dribbling, of course). Czinano took Jensen’s tutelage and became the most efficient offensive post I have seen in a long, long time. Monika’s stance, positioning, understanding of how she was being defended, and footwork added up to a post who rarely missed and could score on most anyone. Class act and a great Hawkeye.
McKenna Warnock - Iowa’s third-leading scorer was McKenna Warnock. She averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds. She quietly averaged double figures in points on the second best team in the country. Many of her rebounds or points came at the most opportune times. Warnock also ran the court hard and was rewarded with some terrific Caitlin Clark passes. Warnock will be missed, but she will be the state’s official/unofficial dentist. Getting a degree and going on to either more schooling or a job in the world is the goal of being a student-athlete and university. Props to Coach Bluder and everyone at Iowa who strives to better themselves. This also can be a shout out to Cresco’s Sharon Goodman for winning a Big Ten academic award. She was named a Distinguished Scholar. Tremendous! We see you, academic Hawks!
Gabbie Marshall - Much has been said and written about her. Marshall shot the ball at an incredible rate down the stretch, but more importantly, she played defense 100 miles per hour yet under control. Iowa’s defense was vastly improved at the end of the year and a major reason for this was Gabbie. And you know in a big moment Gabbie’s lettin’ it fly, and it’s going in.
Kate Martin - I have commented a few times that my favorite player is Kate. Martin goes about her business. She does everything well. She averaged 8 points and 4 rebounds. She shot over 41% from 3. She shot 83% from the free throw line. She also is a leader. Martin understands the game and is a calming voice. During timeouts, dead balls, etc... I would often watch Martin. She is mature beyond her years. Martin’s stats (although good) do not reflect how important she is to this basketball program. Who knows what she wants to do down the road, but don’t be surprised to see the word Coach before Kate’s name.
Molly Davis - Prior to being a Hawkeye, Molly Davis was a star at Central Michigan. Her last two years for the Chippewas, Davis averaged about 19 points per game and played almost 38 minutes per game. Think about that. Davis wanted something more, not stats, more memories and victories on a bigger stage. This year Davis played just under 17 minutes per game and averaged 3.8 ppg. Davis was a steadying influence and could be counted on to come in, handle the ball, distribute the ball, and play her heart out. Mission accomplished. Heck, Molly’s headband became famous, so you know she was balling out.
Sydney Affolter - Sydney ended up playing 10 minutes a game and she did not get cheated. She played as hard and as physical as she could. Her tenacity got my attention and that’s why she got the clock she did. Affolter is the type of player a coach loves to play because they exude a love for the game in the way they carry themselves and the way they compete. There will be minutes available next year, and Sydney is going to work to get some.
Addison O’Grady - I initially wasn’t going to write about Addison in this as I didn’t want to become long-winded (sorry if I am), but O’Grady deserves some love. As fans we are used to playing Madden or NBA2K, playing fantasy football, or any other thing we do on a daily basis where we feel like we know everything. Oh, we need a transfer who can do this. We need that. We forget that these players are human beings. O’Grady was “leapfrogged” by Hannah Stuelke part way through the year and didn’t get the minutes that she would have liked (my words, not hers). She averaged five minutes/game. Because of foul trouble, O’Grady was needed to play 10 minutes against South Carolina and 18 minutes against LSU. She held her own on the biggest stage against some of the best women’s players in the college game. Respect.
Hannah Stuelke - I’m ending with Hannah. I believe there are shirts that say, “Happy Like Hannah” or something similar. Stuelke seems like a nice person and teammate. It goes back to being a former coach, but I’m constantly watching our bench, body language, interactions with coaches, other players, etc... A credit to Hannah and our coaching staff and entire team, but these players like each other and it shows. Hannah is one of my favorite players on the bench AND on the court. By the way, Stuelke was named the 2022-23 Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year. She averaged 6.5 ppg and 4 rpg. Stuelke runs the court like a deer. Many of my favorite plays from this year involved Hannah sprinting (not running) down court and catching a dime from Clark and converting. Catching a pass on the dead-run and converting is no small task. Stuelke routinely did this in her first year. With offseason work, I see Stuelke approaching all-B1G levels as soon as next season.
Coach Lisa Bluder - I initially didn’t include her in this, but when revising it I felt like I needed to comment on her. Some people get into coaching to be part of the spotlight. Coach Bluder is the opposite of that. I have never met her, but you can tell that every bone in her body is genuine. She wants to coach basketball, and more importantly, she wants to support young women. I commented a number of times this year that Coach pushed all the right buttons at the right time. She coached one of the best entire seasons of any coach over the last 20 years. On paper I don’t know if the Hawkeyes “should” have beaten Georgia, Colorado, Louisville, or South Carolina. But we did, and you can’t do that with one player. That’s called coaching, folks.
A Season for the Ages:
So how do we categorize this year? I don’t know if we can yet. I have been a diehard Hawkeye fan my entire life. I have never felt a WAVE (for the kids) of support that grew to such dizzying heights for our Hawkeyes. We were treated to incredible basketball, great moments, great people, sold out arenas, ESPN GameDay, and the last women’s college basketball game of the season, to just name a few. In the past few weeks I have had friends message me who I haven’t spoken to in 20 years wish the Hawks well. Gopher and Cyclone fans jumped on the Iowa train. I have never seen anything like it, and honestly I don’t know if I ever will again. That. That is what I will remember. If you’ve read my stuff, you know what’s next.... It’s great to be a Hawkeye! Go Hawks, and thank you.