IOWA CITY, Ia. — In a series that’s been consistently tight for at least a decade, the feat Iowa’s senior class can achieve Wednesday night in Ames seems a bit staggering.
Four straight Cy-Hawk wins; an undefeated run against always-challenging Iowa State; bragging rights galore in an area that loves its in-state pride.
Those accomplishments, among other things, are on the line for Makenzie Meyer, Kathleen Doyle and Amanda Ollinger — three seniors fueling the Hawkeyes in their final collegiate run. A perfect Cy-Hawk ledger may not be a year-round motivator, but it’s certainly prevalent this week.
“I think it was my freshman year (after beating Iowa State), coach (Jan Jensen) said something to me like, ‘This is the first of four,’” Doyle recalled Tuesday. “I didn’t think much of it then, but it’s pretty fun to think about now. It’s a big game every year. Winning it is a lot of fun.”
Iowa hasn’t won four consecutive in the series since ripping off eight straight from 1984-1997 (the game wasn't annual in that stretch). Inside that streak is the last Hawkeye group to go 4-0 against Iowa State — the 1990 class featuring Jolette Law, among others. At that point, though, the Hawkeyes and Cyclones were at very different stages as women’s basketball programs. The scores indicate as much: 70-51 in 1986, 93-49 in 1987, 79-46 in 1988, 75-55 in 1989.
Much has changed since, making it quite tougher for any side to win four in a row. The senior trio’s sophomore season was the first time Iowa won in Hilton Coliseum since that 1989 drubbing. Last year required Tania Davis’ dramatic heroics in the waning moments. The Hawkeyes expect a nail-biting affair every time cardinal and gold lurks on the other side.
“It’s an exciting rivalry,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “It’s been such a good rivalry over the years. Both teams make each other better. Both of us strive so hard to compete against each other, that it just raises the bar. That’s what is fun about this state.”
With both sides retooling a bit, Wednesday’s outcome could serve as a pivotal non-conference moment. Iowa (6-2) is finding its way without Megan Gustafson. Iowa State (6-1) is moving on from Bridget Carleton. A decent amount of good with some learning sprinkles is an accurate assessment for each. For what it’s worth this early, the two programs were projected as No. 9 seeds in this week’s ESPN bracketology.
Iowa State, though, has the more clear-cut offensive option. The Cyclones run through Ashley Joens, who’s fully embraced top-option status in her sophomore season. The City High graduate is averaging 21.9 points per game while shooting 47% from the field and 91% from the line. Her scoring output and free-throw total (50) both rank in the top 15 nationally.
Joens had a rough Cy-Hawk debut last season, shooting 1-for-10 with a final-second clank that could’ve stolen an Iowa State win. The Hawkeyes aren’t expecting repeat struggles.
“It’s always fun trying to 'D' up a really good player,” Doyle said. “It gives you that sense of accomplishment for your team, just trying to help your team win in any way by making their best player’s night as tough as possible.
“She’s going to make shots — she’s a really good player, a great scorer — so all you can do is make it as tough as possible for her.”
The two sides enter off extended rest after tackling Power Five challenges last week. Both teams are also down one in the in-state round robin setup, with Iowa and Iowa State having lost at Northern Iowa and Drake, respectively. The Hawkeyes’ fledgling unit could use a road confidence boost.
Obtaining one would be a nice December notch — and give Iowa’s seniors a rare career benchmark.
“It’d just be really cool to be able to go 4-0. That would be amazing,” Meyer said. “I’ve been a Hawkeye fan my whole life and have always cheered for the Hawks during Cy-Hawk. That’d be a great way to cap off my senior year.”
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.