On April 7th, 2000 the University of Iowa held a press conference to announce Lisa Bluder's hiring to the sports world. The Hawkeyes endured a transformation once she took control, and Bluder established a new culture..Throughout her 20+ years at the school, she has only experienced one negative season from the year 2006-2007. During her inaugural season, She won the Big Ten Coach Of The Year in 2001 and the Hawkeyes won the Big Ten Championship. She won coach of the year two more times in 2008 & 2010.
Multiple WNBA players are products of Bluder’s teachings from Iowa. Phoenix Mercury forward, Megan Gustafson, played at Iowa from 2015 to 2019 and won Big Ten Player of the Year in '18 and '19. Gustafson is one of the greatest Hawkeyes ever, and the university retired number 10 in her honor. Next season Hawkeye scouts recruited another collegiate superstar who would leave her mark on the program forever.
Iowa native Caitlin Clark captivated the masses with her superstar potential from the moment she arrived at the University Of Iowa and the court has been her stage ever since. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Clark began playing basketball at age five. She originally started playing against boys because there weren’t any girl groups her age to play in. At 13 she joined ‘All Iowa Attack’ in Iowa’s Amateur-Athletic Union. She named Minnesota Lynx legend Maya Moore as her favorite player and molded her game after hers.
In high school, Clark accumulated an incredible resume before even reaching college. While playing for Dowling Catholic, she became a 2020 McDonald’s All-American and won the 2020 Iowa Miss Basketball award. During her senior year, Caitlin averaged 33.4 PPG, 8.0RPG, 4.0 APG, and 2.7 SPG guiding the Maroons to a 19-4 record. On November 12th, 2019 she announced on her Twitter (now X) that she committed to the Iowa Hawkeyes. Bluder recognized the talent and immediately took Caitlin under her wing.
Clark is a 6’0 guard with great intangibles and a killer instinct on the court. She is undoubtedly the best shot-maker in the 2024 WNBA draft, and her offensive game is almost impossible to guard. Throughout her 4-years playing for the Hawkeyes, her 3-point field goal percentage has been in the high 30s. She opened up her freshman year averaging 26 points, and she consistently improved her shooting every season. Off the dribble, she has a wide variety of moves to create space against her opponents and viral moments always occur with her on the court.
Clark’s playmaking is also something to behold, and her level of vision is uncommon for such a great scorer. Along with 26 points, she averaged 7.1 assists showcasing her playmaking early in her collegiate career. She never allows the defensive sets to make her uncomfortable, and her decision-making in the clutch is very impressive. During the 2022-2023 season, she led the Hawkeyes on a historic run through the March Madness tournament.
The Hawkeyes faced the Louisville Cardinals in the Elite Eight, and Caitlin recorded the first-ever 40-point triple-double in the NCAA tournament’s history. While fighting through the gauntlet of March Madness, she had multiple games with 20 points and 10 assists. Clark averaged 31.8 PPG, 10.0 APG, 1.8 SPG, and 5.2 RPG. While playing South Carolina in the Final Four, she exploded for 41 points, six rebounds, and eight assists in a 77-73 upset win over the #2 ranked Gamecocks.
Lisa & the Hawkeyes arrived in Dallas for the championship game, where they matched up with the LSU Tigers. Collegiate superstar Angel Reese led the Tigers into battle averaging 21.3 PPG and 15.3 RPG in the Tournament.
Caitlin scored 30 points and dished eight assists while shooting 9 of 22 in a losing effort. She was the only Hawkeye to score over 15 points in the game. LSU Tigers LaDazhia Williams, Alexis Morris, and Jasmine Carson all scored over 20 points. Angel put in 15 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. The contributions from LSU’s supporting cast were too much for the Hawkeyes and they lost 102-85
All of the performances, Caitlin put on display, turned her into a superstar off the court. She accumulated numerous sponsors and endorsement deals. The revolutionary 'NIL deal' has allowed collegiate athletes to their hard work, and she is reaping the benefits. She signed lucrative deals with NIKE ,State Farm, and Buick.
It was a historic run for the Hawkeyes regardless because it was their first-ever NCAA Championship appearance. Even though Caitlin has another year of eligibility if she would like to stay at Iowa, multiple mock drafts have her as the #1 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft. Caitlin and Lisa have one more chance to lead the Hawkeyes to the national championship, and the 2023-2024 roster can accomplish the goal.
Clark takes up most of the attention, but there is another star developing alongside Her. The second leading scorer for the Hawkeyes is sophomore forward Hannah Stuelke. She is currently averaging 12.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, and 0.8 APG. Stuelke is already showcasing her potential during her second season under coach Bluder, and she has made improvements that are paying off on the stat sheet.
Stuelke is an Iowa native hailing from Cedar Rapids which is located 27 miles from the University. During her senior year, she was named Iowa Gatorade Player of The Year and Miss Iowa Basketball at Washington High School. These are the same titles that were bestowed upon Caitlin during her time in Des Moines.
Hannah did a good job transitioning to the pace of division-1 basketball, and in her freshmen year, she won the 2022-2023 Big Ten Sixth Player Of The Year. On January 11th, 2023 she scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds against the Northwestern Wildcats, and the performance put her on everyone’s radar. Her upside is undeniable, and she looks like the next star for the Hawkeyes after the Clark era ends this spring. We will see how she handles being the star after Caitlin’s departure.
The supporting cast is a major reason for their success last year during their championship run and this season as well. Seniors Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall are essential pieces of the Hawkeyes’ core. Martin has been a part of the Hawkeyes since 2019, and she is one the best shooters on the team. Bluder gave her 8 minutes in the rotation during her freshmen year, and her stats were 2.4 PPG, 1.8 APG, 0.8 RPG, and 0.3 SPG.
The next season, Kate became an official part of the rotation after Lisa gave her 30 minutes per game in the rotation, and Martin seized the opportunity. Her stats jumped to 7.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.2 SPG. After shooting 18% from three in her first year, she improved to 35.4% next year during her sophomore season. For the next three years, she would average around the same stats, and gain more experience season-by-season. Now in her 5th season, her veteran presence in the locker room is vital for the success of the Hawkeyes.
Her teammates describe her as the “glue” that keeps them together through adversity. Now it is her last season of eligibility, and her goal is to make this final season the best year she has ever had. Their 2023 championship appearance was her first and only time making it that far in the Tournament. Lisa Bluder believes she is a big reason for the success of the Hawkeyes. “Kate is one of the strongest leaders I’ve ever been around.” Bluder said, “I honestly believe (Kate) can just contribute in so many areas. She’s a great captain, the glue to our team.”
Martin has been a pillar of the team’s foundation for years, and Gabbie has absorbed her guidance season-by-season. Gabbie is a Senior guard who came in the same year as Kate. Her development in the Hawkeyes program was similar to Martin’s year-by-year. Bluder gave Gabbie 16 minutes per game her freshmen year, and she averaged 5.1 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, and 0.8 SPG. Her point totals weren’t much, but her shooting stroke was noticeable and Kate had the potential to be a 3-point sharpshooter.
During her sophomore season, Lisa gave her 30 minutes in the rotation, and she showcased the improvements she made over the summer. Gabbie put up 9.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.0 APG, and 1.9 SPG. Her perimeter defense improved substantially, and her 3-point field goal percentage increased to 47%. Statistically, this was her best season, and she has been a reliable role player during her tenure with the Hawkeyes. Her 3-point shooting and defensive prowess make her a valuable piece of the Hawkeyes’ core. Her eligibility also ends this year, and she has solidified herself as one of the greatest pure shooters in the program’s history.
The veterans were a major reason for their championship run last year, and they’re trying to replicate the same success before they turn the page to the next chapter of their lives. As of December 6th, The Hawkeyes are ranked 1st in the Big Ten conference with a 9-1 record, and their only loss so far came at the hands of the Kansas State Wildcats 65-58 on November 16th. The girls have won every game since then, including a rematch versus the Wildcats on November 26th.
In an article written by ESPN Journalist, Debbie Antonelli, the Hawkeyes are listed as the 3rd highest betting favorites to win the 2024 NCAA Tournament. The two teams above them are powerhouse schools LSU and UConn. Both teams are seen as threats to the Hawkeyes because their rosters possess players who could be top-5 picks in the WNBA draft. The UConn Huskies are led by the dynamic duo of Paige Bueckers and Aaliyah Edwards. The LSU Tigers have a “big three” with Angel, Hailey Van Lith, and Flau’Jae Johnson.
The Clark era was something special, and she is certainly one of the greatest Hawkeyes of all time regardless of gender. Caitlin is also regarded as one of the greatest D1 Women’s basketball players of all time. On December 6th, she reached the 3,000-point milestone versus in-state rival Iowa State. She is the only player in Division-1 men's or women's basketball history with 3,000+ points, 750+ rebounds and 750+ assists.
Even if they do not win the NCAA Title, Clark, Martin, and Marshall have accomplished so much during their time at the school with their regular season win totals, tournament appearances, and the unity they built. This final season is something they will remember forever and cherish for the rest of their lives.
LinkedIn: Antwane Willis