Bluder takes home DI’s Coach of the Year

The Daily Iowan found Lisa Bluder deserving of the 2018-19 Coach of the Year honor.


Katina Zentz

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder shouts during the women’s Big Ten tournament basketball game vs. Rutgers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday, March 9, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights 72-67 and will be moving on to the championship game against Maryland.

Pete Mills, Assistant Sports Editor

In the weeks leading up to this year’s Big Ten Tournament, Iowa women’s basketball head coach Lisa Bluder had her team practice taking down the nets to gain the full feeling of being a championship basketball team.

“I just wanted to give them the experience of what it feels like to be a champion and put that visual in their minds,” Bluder said on March 6. “It’s something I’ve done in the past, and I just felt like this team is a team that has the potential to cut down a net … They need to know how to do it and how good it feels.”

This is one example of what it takes to be a good coach at the college level. Readying players for high-pressure situations ensures success on one of women’s basketball’s biggest stages.

A great coach, though, stretches beyond that. On March 10, Iowa cut down the nets — for real this time — after taking down No. 8 Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament title game. Bluder did her job and put the team in the championship mindset, but landing the plane was a different beast altogether.

That was not the result of a few practice sessions of postgame celebrations, it took years of hard-fought recruiting and painstaking planning.

Underlying all of this was a great culture. Hawkeye fans understood that it was special in a variety of ways to watch the cast of players match the program’s record in wins in a single season. 

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“They want to play — this team cares about each other so much,” Bluder said after the team beat Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament. “They don’t want to let each other down, and that’s the best motivation that you can have. That’s why we were hard in practice every single day, because they don’t want to let each other down, and that’s what’s made them a really, really good basketball team.”

None of it really means anything without a positive culture as a foundation. Bluder has reiterated time and again that the special nature of the bonds among the Hawkeyes drove them through the Big Ten championship and the Elite Eight.

After the season, the accolades came in droves. Bluder took Iowa’s first Naismith Coach of the Year Trophy since C. Vivian Stringer in 1993, while being part of the 10th coach-player tandem to sweep the Naismith awards with Megan Gustafson. It was the team’s first Big Ten Championship title since 2001, and the NCAA Tournament run marked its deepest since 1993.

But it feels as if there is unfinished business for Bluder. Surely, promising a conference championship and a national quarterfinals appearance at the beginning of the season would spark much excitement. But after the loss to No. 1 Baylor on April 1 to end the season, a residual feeling of desire remained in the program.

Bluder has much more she wants to accomplish. She is in elite company, as one of only 10 active Division-1 head coaches with more than 700 wins. But this year’s excellent season drove many top players to commit to Iowa. She has proved everything this season yet still stretches her program to be elite, making her the best candidate for the DI’s Coach of the Year.