There was so much black and yellow in Iowa City on Friday that Wiz Khalifa might have to don a Hawkeye on his whip and diamonds.
Over 10,000 fans showed up to a downtown celebration to recognize the historic season of the Iowa women’s basketball team, which culminated in their first Final Four appearance since 1993 and becoming the national runner-up. Even though the Hawkeyes came up short to the champion LSU Tigers, they have helped take women’s college basketball into the stratosphere as the national final was watched by a record audience of 9.9 million and was the top story of every major sports media outlet the following day.
The game and its broader impact is still being discussed.
All of the players and coaching staff were on stage and recognized before the throng of fans on a beautiful 85-degree spring afternoon. Among the illustrious guests there to help with the festivities were University of Iowa president Barbara Wilson and Iowa City mayor Bruce Teague, who proclaimed April 14 to be “Iowa Women’s Basketball Team Day”.
Speaking on behalf of the team were head coach Lisa Bluder and National Player of the Year Caitlin Clark.
Bluder was recognized as the winningest head coach in program history with 494 wins with the Hawkeyes. She has 851 wins in total and is the 14th-winningest coach in the history of NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball with 795 wins.
In her speech, she went down the list of the team’s accomplishments this season such as sweeping their neighboring opponents (Drake, University of Northern Iowa, and Iowa State), winning their second consecutive Big Ten tournament championship and the biggest one: upsetting the defending champion South Carolina Gamecocks in the national semifinal.
She spoke movingly about her team being such great ambassadors during this incredible ride and was proud of the way they came out even though they came up short in winning it all.
“It is easy to be No. 1 and I am proud of the way my women were No. 2,” she said before a raucous applause. “I think you can learn a lot about being No. 2 by the way this group acted and represented this great university and this great state.”
Coach Bluder then acknowledged the atmosphere at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, which had record turnout all year, and how even Final Four location Dallas didn’t measure up.
“Dallas was amazing, but nothing compares to Carver-Hawkeye Arena!” she exclaimed.
Before the full introduction of the players, she shouted out the entire coaching staff for their contributions to the team’s success.
Then, an exuberant Caitlin Clark grabbed the mic and became the ultimate hype woman. She didn’t hold back and was hollering up a storm. In keeping with her nature, she turned the spotlight over to her teammates and asked them what their favorite moment of the season was or if they had an appropriate funny story to share.
Kate Martin shared that her favorite moment was Clark hitting that dramatic buzzer-beater in the final regular season game, a moment that will be seared into the memories of the Hawkeye faithful forever and referred to simply as “the shot.” It was fitting for Martin to share because she was the one who inbounded the ball.
Gabbie Marshall, a native of Ohio, said that routing Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game was her biggest highlight. Clark then pointed out that earlier in the year they defeated the Buckeyes on the road when they were the No. 2 team in the nation.
Crowd favorite and Sixth player of the year Hannah Stuelke was starting to shed some tears when she expressed how much joy she had in simply experiencing this season with all the players.
Outgoing fifth-year and leader Monika Czinano, an aspiring doctor and the 26th pick in the WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks, spoke of her multiple journeys with the program and how winning with her best friends made it all worthwhile.
McKenna Warnock, who will be pursuing dental school, said that playing for the “best university in America, having the best fans in America, and the best team in America” was everything.
Sophomore Sydney Affolter, who also happened to be celebrating her birthday, said that her favorite thing was being able to travel with the team and play against different teams in different places.
After that, Caitlin closed things out on behalf of the players with a deep sense of gratitude to the fans and the coaches. She expressed a strong sense of hope that come next year the Hawkeyes will be back for another large celebration but with the national championship trophy in hand.
“We are very lucky to play in a place that supports women’s basketball and women’s athletics in general the way you guys do,” she said. “We are very grateful and obviously we get to play for a coaching staff that supports women’s athletics as well. I don’t think we would have gotten to where we did if it wasn’t for all of you.”
“We love you guys, and next year, let’s be here celebrating a national championship!”
The enthusiasm surrounding the program is reflected in so many ways, but perhaps the biggest example of that is that purchases for season tickets for the 2023-24 season were put on hold due to an enormous swarm of requests.
Iowa and the world of women’s basketball has a bright future ahead, and with Clark returning, along with Marshall, Martin, Stuelke and others, the best is most likely yet to come.