An emotional weekend in Dallas cheering for the Hawkeyes



Sports Editor David Warrington went to Dallas for the historical Final Four run from the Iowa women’s basketball team. This trip was historical not just for the schools program, but also for his family legacy.


Every child has things that they take for granted until much later, when they’ve matured enough to realize how special something truly is. For me, it was getting to attend Iowa women’s basketball games and sit in outstanding seats while cheering on the Hawkeyes. I have had this opportunity my entire life because Lisa Bluder, the longtime Head Coach at Iowa, also happens to be my aunt.

Bluder, a graduate of UNI and a three-year starter on the Panther women’s basketball team, began her coaching career at St. Ambrose. After a stint there in which she transformed the Fighting Bees into a perennial powerhouse, she accepted the head coaching position at Drake. In 2000, the position to be the head coach at Iowa became open, and Bluder was hired. She has been in this position ever since. I was born in 2001, so she has been Iowa’s head coach my entire life.

As mentioned, I have been going to Iowa women’s basketball games for a very long time. For years, the norm was a team that was fundamentally sound, very well coached and put a solid product on the floor, but could never quite break into the upper echelon of women’s basketball teams. These teams would play in front of a crowd of passionate fans, although those crowds generally weren’t particularly large, averaging between 3,000 and 6,000 fans for most games. Carver-Hawkeye Arena even had curtains hanging a little over halfway up the stands in order to hide seats that were left empty. However, things began to change in the 2018-19 season. Megan Gustafson was named the National Player of the Year, Bluder was named National Coach of the Year and the Hawkeyes reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Now enter Caitlin Clark.

The fourth ranked recruit in the class of 2020, Clark has led the Hawkeyes to unprecedented heights. This season, the aforementioned curtains were raised, as was required to hold the average of over 10,000 fans per home game. The Hawkeyes lost only one home game the entire year, including a buzzer beater to take down No. 2 Indiana in the regular season finale. Clark was named National Player of the Year and the Hawkeyes ended up reaching the national championship game for the first time in program history. Throughout all of the games I attended, I always made sure to spend time during the intros looking into the packed stands filled with fans on their feet cheering on the Hawkeyes and women’s basketball in general. More than once I became a little emotional thinking back to the much more sparse crowds that previously made up most of these games.

When the Hawkeyes reached the Final Four, I knew I couldn’t miss it for anything. The plan was to drive with my mom. However, she became unable to go, leaving me to transport myself. Therefore, my girlfriend and I packed up my car and hit the road for Dallas. 26 hours on the road later, 13 hours each way, I know I made the right decision. The drive down had a special moment in it’s own right. We saw several Iowa license plates well after we had left the state and assumed many of them were also headed to the game. We got confirmation from at least one of these vehicles in Oklahoma when, in the middle of passing my car, and having seen my Iowa license plate, the woman in the front seat took off her hat, waved it towards the window and yelled ‘Go Hawks!’ as they passed by.

In Dallas, the red carpet was out in full for women’s basketball. I was able to stay at the team hotel, which was decked out in black and gold with the Tiger Hawk placed all over the building. Team personnel could be seen throughout the hotel, with an assistant coach here, a player there, and family members of the team all around the building. It was special to see an entire building filled with people there for a single purpose and committed to a single goal.

The Hawkeyes were huge underdogs against South Carolina, with the Gamecocks favored by 11.5 points. However, the Hawkeyes led nearly wire-to-wire, defeating the 36-0 South Carolina team, ending their 42-game win streak and advancing to the national championship for the first time ever. To list this moment as emotional would be an understatement. My Uncle Dave, Lisa’s husband, and my cousins David and Emma took to the floor shortly after the game to hug and congratulate my aunt.

The section I sat in was comprised almost solely of people with familial relationships to the program. To say some of these individuals shed a tear would be an understatement, myself included. The Hawks may have fallen short in the championship, but watching my aunt, after decades in coaching, celebrate a Final Four victory over the nation’s top team was a moment I’ll never forget.

The point of this column is perseverance. It took my aunt 14 years to get the job at Iowa. After getting there, it took another 15 years before she reached the Sweet 16. Since then, she has led her team to the Sweet 16 four times, including two Elite Eights and a national championship game. Don’t give up on your dreams just because of barriers that are presently in your way. Keep working and keep believing, but most importantly of all, never forget to take a moment to appreciate things along the way.