In the aftermath of the Iowa Hawkeyes magical run to the 2023 NCAA title game, head coach Lisa Bluder planted the seed for an idea. She decided to capitalize on the team’s popularity by inquiring about hosting an outdoor exhibition game at Kinnick Stadium, the home of the Hawkeyes football team. After all, it had been done before with the storied wrestling program with the 2015 Grapple on the Gridiron, which drew 42,287 spectators.
Fast forward to Oct. 15, 2023 and the Crossover at Kinnick came to life. All the logistical planning, publicity roll out and fixation on the weather paid off as a NCAA-record crowd of 55,646 filled Kinnick to watch basketball excellence. They got more than they bargained for as the Hawkeyes expectedly steamrolled their way to victory 94-72 over the visiting University of DePaul Blue Demons.
DePaul made it fairly competitive contest with some scrappy play, but they couldn’t keep up with the exploits of reigning National Player of the Year Caitlin Clark and company. Clark finished with a triple double of 34 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Four other Hawkeyes scored in double figures as well. Molly Davis had 13 points and had five rebounds. Hannah Steulke had 12 points, three rebounds and three assists. Kate Martin had 11 points and eight rebounds. Addison O’Grady had 10 points and 14 rebounds.
How the growth of women’s sports made the Crossover at Kinnick possible
Beyond the action on the court, it was the historical significance of the game that registers more than anything, aside from the $250,000 that was donated to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. The game had more in people in attendance than the historic Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs held at the Houston Astrodome 50 years ago.
The game placed itself in the annals of history alongside other noteworthy moments of women’s athletic transcendence that have happened to coincide with immense attention. The Battle of the Sexes, the 1999 Women’s World Cup final between the United States and China at the Rose Bowl and the recent Nebraska Women’s Volleyball exhibition helped to pave the way for this occasion. An increased focus on women’s sports helped make these moments successful. The attention given to the historic achievements of the likes of Simone Biles, Coco Gauff and Sha’Carri Richardson helps too. When there is real investment in women’s sports, people will come out and give talented women athletes their long-overdue credit.
The Hawkeyes know that more than most, as they have experienced a sea change over the past year. The national title game against LSU drew nearly 10 million television viewers and those eyeballs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The Hawkeyes appreciate their place in women’s sports herstory
A product of Title IX who remembers watching King trounce Riggs in her living room, Bluder recognizes the gender-inclusive impact of this surge of interest in women’s sports. “Women’s sports is at a different level right now,” she said. “I think we are seeing the effects of the Title IX babies [who] now are moms and grandmas. They understand the value of sport and they want their kids to embrace that and to celebrate it and not only little girls but little boys too. Little boys are growing up learning about how good women’s athletics is.”
Clark, who is charting the course for her generation, equally recognizes the specialness. “It’s deserved,” she said. “I think it is something that should have been done probably a long time ago. I think people are starting to understand how amazing women’s sports are and how fun it is to watch and it’s just gonna continue to grow.”
The Hawkeyes will be back in action for their second preseason game against Clarke University on Sunday, Oct. 22.