Meet Hannah Stuelke, who could be Iowa women's basketball's next homegrown star

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

CEDAR RAPIDS — The reserved demeanor gives way to a few soft smiles as Hannah Stuelke listens to the basketball questions rolling in. She’s still getting comfortable with any sort of spotlight, which is bound to grow even more as high school accolades are traded in for collegiate stardom.

Because as quiet Stuelke might be, her game is loud.

Real loud.

The staggering stats are there every week, and they have been since Stuelke’s Cedar Rapids Washington career tipped off way back in 2018. Any recruiting drama is nowhere to be found, wrapped up and finished for nearly three years after Stuelke became an Iowa commit following her freshman season. That grounded personality and her consistent ascension in the world of recruiting and evaluation have everyone in the Hawkeyes program elated for her arrival.

"It’s been really fun with Hannah because you build relationships more when they commit that early," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "You’re just closer to that family and spend more time around them. So it’s been a really, really good situation, and we’re excited to have Hannah join us.”                    

Cedar Rapids Washington's Hannah Stuelke smiles during a Class 5A varsity girls basketball game against Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The final chapters of this decorated high school career are being written this month, as Stuelke, a 6-foot-2 wing with forward and guard skills, closes out her prep tenure with what she hopes is the Warriors’ first state tournament appearance since 2013. A deep postseason surge is the final piece missing from this puzzle of basketball brilliance.

“It’s been a great ride,” Stuelke said.

Fully appreciating that journey requires flipping back a few years.

Hannah Stuelke was a clear high-major basketball talent at a young age

Often the last thing on minds of high school freshmen is cementing life-changing decisions for nearly a half-decade down the road. It’s usually a year of acclimation and transition as responsibilities slowly increase in importance. Asking a 15-year-old where he or she might attend college can produce a bevy of answers, most of which likely won’t materialize.

Not Stuelke.

Maturity totally dwarfed uncertainty in this scenario.

As a lifelong eastern Iowa native and Hawkeyes supporter, Stuelke fit the mold of many in-state basketball prospects not looking to venture far. Put simply, she wanted to be a Hawkeye. But the production had to match the aspirations.

Any questions about Stuelke's abilities were quickly put to rest after she finished the 2018-19 campaign as the second highest-scoring freshman in the state (16.5 points per game). Pair that with a strong surge on the AAU scene with the All-Iowa Attack, and Stuelke’s future basketball goals suddenly felt within reach.

"She offers a skillset that’s unique," said Dan Olson, who has been analyzing girls basketball prospects since 2007 as owner and director of Collegiate Girls Basketball Report. "She can hit jump shots. She’s big enough inside.

"She knows how to play — All-Iowa Attack kids know how to play. They know spacing, footwork. It’s been a demand put on them by those coaches with All-Iowa Attack that you’re going to play and you’re going to play hard or you’re not going to play. That carries over into their collegiate setting. They aren’t skipping a beat for the most part."    

Stuelke already owned an Iowa offer when Stuelke trekked to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to watch Megan Gustafson and the Hawkeyes battle Missouri in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Gustafson dominated and Iowa rolled, so Hawkeye coaches were already happy after a strong Sunday crowd had departed.

Stuelke was on the court visiting with the Iowa coaching staff — and then it happened.

She told her future coaches she was committing to the Hawkeyes.

“I always wanted to go to Iowa as a kid,” Stuelke said. “That’s where I wanted to go. I knew it. I’ve always lived here, grew up a Hawkeye fan. We went to a ton of games and were always watching when we couldn’t make it. It was really cool to have my dreams come true.”

It wasn’t quite committing on the spot immediately after an offer arrived, but it was pretty close. Stuelke had the entire Iowa coaching staff caught off-guard, which is hard to do for a group of people whose occupation depends on preparation. She picked up Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen, spun her around and fully embraced this magical moment.

“Well this day just got even better!” Jensen exclaimed as cheers came from every direction. “That is so great!”     

'She's never wavered from her decision once'

The early investment on both sides has paid off tremendously since then.

For Stuelke, she’s been able to navigate through the high school and AAU scenes with no recruiting pressure or worries — which rarely is the case with a player of her caliber. No seesawing thoughts, no hectic visit schedules, no concerns with how much validity coaches’ promises actually carry. Removing those elements has been crucial in allowing Stuelke to blossom into the prospect she is today.

For Iowa, the risk that comes with any initial evaluation and offer extension has been largely removed. The Hawkeyes have proudly watched Stuelke blossom into a four-star, top-50 2022 recruit without having to fend off any other potential suitors. That’s rare given how potent her basketball profile has become.

“She’s never wavered from her decision once,” Bluder said. “We obviously thought she was a great basketball player then. But with everybody who you identify as a great talent early, there’s a little bit of a risk, right? Are they going to continue to develop? Are they going to continue to stay motivated? Are they going to do academically well enough to achieve? Thankfully, most of the time we’ve made those early offers, that has happened. And those kids have continued to get better.

“It’s really a lot of fun when you’re going into AAU season in the summer, and you’re sitting there watching a Hannah Stuelke play or some other kids you’ve got committed play — and they’re doing really well. You kind of sit up a little straighter and are just like a proud parent watching them play."        

Cedar Rapids Washington's Hannah Stuelke, left, celebrates with teammate Deja Redmond after a Class 5A varsity girls basketball game against Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

As the entire college basketball world fawns over Caitlin Clark’s current Iowa success, Stuelke can’t wait to join the party. She, like Clark, is set to finish her senior season as the state’s leading scorer. Stuelke will likely play more guard at Iowa than she does for the Warriors, but the versatility she’s shown over the years offers plenty of promise for that transition.

From a personality perspective, Stuelke admits the college jump will force her out of her comfort zone. It’s a challenge she’s more than willing to embrace, with her game still doing most of the talking.  

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.