'We're not done yet': Iowa women's basketball celebrates historic season with its fans
In the heart of the University of Iowa's campus, in one of the most notable locations, stood a monument to a group of women who accomplished something that no other in school history had.
The Old Capitol Building, which sits in the center of the Pentacrest, was draped with black and gold banners that read "IOWA". The walkway leading up to the building displayed more Iowa banners in alternating black and gold colors and a stage stood at the center of it all. That stage was where the 2022-23 Iowa women's basketball team was honored Friday night for its historic run to the national title game, the first appearance in program history.
The ceremony wasn't scheduled to start until 5:30 p.m. but fans began arriving as early as 1:30 p.m., among them were Cedar Rapids residents and lifelong Iowans Mike and Barbara Driscoll. Barbara is a longtime Iowa women's basketball fan while Mike recently began following the team's success. He represents a large portion of regional and national sports watchers who are new fans of the Hawkeye team.
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"It's just amazing, very impressive," Mike Driscoll said. "Just the team itself and the way they played together. They were fantastic at moving the ball and knowing where everyone is at...it was just awesome (to watch)."
He offered one more remark about Iowa's recent national attention and the soon-to-be rowdy crowd on the Pentacrest.
"It's about time."
A team that adopted the motto "Why not us?" during its NCAA Tournament run officially celebrated its season in front of thousands of fans of all ages. Players and coaches took their time reaching the stage after the bus dropped them off, engaging with as many fans as they could, many (especially young ones) with tears in their eyes.
Shirts reading 'Bluder's Bunch' after coach Lisa Bluder and her team, 'The law firm' paying homage to star players Caitlin Clark and Monika Czinano and more including 'The Spark' for Gabbie Marshall, 'Work like (McKenna) Warknock,' 'Money (Kate) Martin' and 'Happy like Hannah (Stuelke)' were seen throughout the crowd.
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Iowa City mayor Bruce Teague was on hand and delivered a special announcement: An official proclamation declaring April 14, 2023, as "Iowa Women's Basketball Team Day". University president Barbara Wilson and athletic director Gary Barta provided remarks as well.
They highlighted the accomplishments of Bluder, the Big Ten's all-time winningest women's basketball coach, and the team's academic achievement with 11 players earning All-Academic honors. Center Sharon Goodman was recognized as the player with the highest grade point average at the Final Four.
But what garnered the biggest reaction from fans was that Barta and Wilson replaced the 'Why not us?' motto with another: 'We're not done'.
Bluder was the first of the team to speak, thanking the fans for their support throughout the year from home games in Iowa City to the Big Ten Tournament and throughout the NCAA Tournament. As for the team, she believes they made a mark that cannot be erased.
"I do believe this team changed the way people think about women's basketball," Bluder said. "Not only in Iowa but across the country."
Clark, the player every fan wanted to see, was next on the microphone. She began with a loud scream expressing her excitement at the large crowd. She then invited the entire team to join her for a special question-and-answer segment. Clark asked her teammates questions including favorite memories from the season and the best parts of being a part of the program.
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Seniors Czinano, who's one of the newest members of the WNBA's LA Sparks, and Warnock, who's headed off to dental school, spoke of the bonds built with teammates past and present. Returning senior Gabbie Marshall, a Cincinnati, Ohio native, highlighted beating Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament championship game as her most memorable moment. True freshman Hannah Stuelke noted that this run in her first college season was a dream come true.
Beloved assistant coach Jan Jensen closed the ceremony with warm thanks to Iowa's support staff, the Iowa spirit squad, band and of course, the Hawkeye fans. Her speech ended with a confetti downpour that covered fans closest to the stage, providing a glimpse into what it's like to be in that moment on the court. But it also served as motivation to reach the heights the 2022-23 team did on a consistent basis.
Iowa's celebration commemorated a historic season but now the attention turns to what's to come. With a strong returning core there's optimism that the Hawkeyes could be celebrating again next season.
Clark was very clear about what type of celebration she wants in 2024.
"Next year let's be here celebrating a national championship."