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Megan Gustafson describes the emotions in seeing her jersey retired. Hawk Central

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — She did her best to pin back the tears on a day dripping with emotion. For 40 minutes and beyond, through multiple interviews and arena recognition, Megan Gustafson successfully kept her composure Sunday afternoon.

Until the banner started to ascend.

That’s when Gustafson lost it.

“That’s kind of when it hit me, I think,” Gustafson said. “The whole day was just pretty busy — my mind was kind of spinning — enjoying the game and stuff like that. But just seeing (the No. 10 banner) unravel and my number going up —and them listing off everything and the music, it hit me then that this is real. I was able to accomplish this dream that I had.”       

Gustafson more than achieved her dream; she shattered it with an emphatic college career that has her undoubtedly among the sport’s elite. She lit up Iowa City with an unwavering smile and tenaciousness for four dominant years. It was only fitting this town returned the favor.

In front of 13,420 — the second-largest Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd in the Lisa Bluder era and 1,000 larger than last year’s NCAA Tournament win over Missouri — Gustafson received the royal treatment the way she deserved. An unforgettable afternoon culminated with her No. 10 hanging in the rafters, never to be worn again.

“Being able to come back is pretty surreal, being in front of that crowd,” Gustafson said after No. 21 Iowa rallied late for a 74-57 win over Michigan State. “They brought the energy today, and they really pushed the team to win today. It was really cool to be a part of. That ceremony afterward, I was crying a lot and got emotional just because this university and this program and these girls and these coaches mean so much to me. They really shaped me into the person I am today.”        

From start to finish, the day served as a glimpse back into Gustafson’s basketball prowess. She sat courtside with her parents and sister, receiving raucous applause during a pregame introduction and in-game conversations. Gustafson shuffled from her seat to the Big Ten TV broadcast to entertaining one fan request after another for autographs or pictures.

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It was Gustafson’s first time as a Carver-Hawkeye Arena spectator since probably her senior year of high school. Just one year removed from sitting on the opposite sideline made for some conflicted thoughts.

“It was weird,” Gustafson said with a laugh. “At first I was like, ‘I should be out there or something.’ But it’s cool to just sit back and watch them, and I’m just so proud of them.”

The Hawkeyes put on a fourth-quarter show to keep the postgame vibes positive. The energy from Iowa’s 21-4 closing stretch naturally spilled into the ceremony afterward. After listing off Gustafson’s accomplishments — and there were many — a video tribute played with messages from former teammates and coaches, family and Hawkeye greats.

Then the banner went up. Jubilation engulfed an exuberant crowd.

“She was somebody to cheer for,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “We all want somebody to cheer for and she was just the perfect person because she honestly strived for excellence in all areas, whether it was on the court, in the classroom or in her personal life. The way she represented us, you couldn’t ask for a better representative of our program then how Megan was.

“She was just a kind person, and that’s the truth. That goes a long ways today, being nice to people. It’s kind of a lost art sometimes. She was such a humble teammate, and again, the epitome of everything you’d want in a representative of your basketball program.” 

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 msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.

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