Column: Hawkeye seniors leave legacy of success, grace

Iowa’s season ended with a tough defeat at the hands of the nation’s best team, but that in no way diminishes the legacy this Hawkeye squad built.

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Column: Hawkeye seniors leave legacy of success, grace

Iowa forward Hannah Stewart gets emotional at the end of the NCAA Elite 8 game against Baylor at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex on Monday, April 1, 2019. The Bears defeated the Hawkeyes 85-53.

Iowa forward Hannah Stewart gets emotional at the end of the NCAA Elite 8 game against Baylor at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex on Monday, April 1, 2019. The Bears defeated the Hawkeyes 85-53.

Katina Zentz

Iowa forward Hannah Stewart gets emotional at the end of the NCAA Elite 8 game against Baylor at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex on Monday, April 1, 2019. The Bears defeated the Hawkeyes 85-53.

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Iowa forward Hannah Stewart gets emotional at the end of the NCAA Elite 8 game against Baylor at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex on Monday, April 1, 2019. The Bears defeated the Hawkeyes 85-53.

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

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Greensboro, N.C. – With an uncharacteristic 85-53 loss in Monday night’s Elite Eight, the most successful season of Lisa Bluder’s tenure as Hawkeye head coach came to a sudden halt.

This next week will surely be filled with anguish for the Iowa players, but at some point down the road, they will realize how special this season was and how extraordinary their team has been.

Senior Megan Gustafson admits to not having fully contextualized this season yet. Even so, she had a lucid take on just how monumental this season was for the Iowa women’s basketball team.

“It’s been an amazing season,” Gustafson said. “I knew it had to end sometime, I just didn’t want it to end now. We’ve extended it as long as we possibly could. To be able to be in the Elite Eight, that says something. We put Iowa on the map.”

When Gustafson and fellow seniors Tania Davis, and Hannah Stewart arrived on campus four years ago as spry freshman, Iowa was coming off a Sweet 16 loss.

It seemed Iowa’s trajectory was pointed skyward, however, a host of graduating seniors depleted the talent on the roster, and the Hawkeyes finished 19-14, getting upset in the WNIT.

The next season saw a little improvement as Iowa went 20-14, winning three games in the WNIT. Still, it was one of the only times Bluder failed to make the Big Dance for two-straight years.

After years of success, Iowa was floundering in mediocrity.

In a way that exemplified the 2018-19 season, this year’s seniors – then-juniors – fought their way back to the NCAA Tournament.

An early exit dampened that party, and probably caused much of the national media to count Iowa out at the beginning of the season.

But just like Davis and Stewart had to do throughout their careers, Iowa fought and thrust its way back into the national spotlight.

Fans will surely remember this group for that, but it’s their off-court legacy that is truly the most special.

“I feel like we’re all just great people,” Davis said. “We’re great individuals off the court and I feel like that’s the legacy we’d rather leave.”

Whether it was perseverance on the court or grace off it, this Iowa senior class is truly one for the ages.

The group stumbled in its first season in the Black and Gold, and it soared in its last. That alone showed perseverance, but Davis and Stewart have their own stories of determination.

Stewart almost transferred after getting minimal playing time her first two years. Davis missed two-consecutive seasons with injuries.

Both battled back and became major contributors to a powerful Elite Eight squad.

Then there’s Gustafson, who may be the greatest Iowa player to ever wear a black and gold basketball jersey.

It’s a group that won’t soon be forgotten by Bluder.

“I’m going to remember cutting down the nets with these guys after winning a Big Ten Championship,” Bluder said with tears in her eyes. “I’m going to remember Tania’s results coming back. I’m going to remember Hannah Stewart’s journey. I’m going to remember getting the opportunity to coach one of the best basketball players in America in Megan, and that’s what I’m going to remember about this season. I’m going to remember the relationships and the great memories with these young ladies. I’m very, very fortunate and very blessed to coach them.”

 

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