‘They have gotten every angel on the fence on our side’: Through loss, Jan Jensen keeps coaching in NCAA Tournament

The Iowa women’s basketball head coach lost her father in the morning of Iowa’s Elite Eight game. But through the work ethic her father instilled in her, she is coaching the Hawkeyes to the national championship.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen talks to the media during the NCAA Elite Eight press conferences at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, WA, on Sat., March 25, 2023.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Editor

DALLAS — Iowa women’s basketball associate head coach Jan Jensen hasn’t had time to process anything other than basketball in the past week.

But she’s been coaching through the NCAA Tournament in the wake of a family tragedy.

Jensen’s father, Dale Jensen, died at age 86 of pancreatic cancer on March 26 — the same day Iowa beat Louisville in the Elite Eight in Seattle. But her father had a tough last couple days, Jensen said, and she’s happy he’s free of pain now.

“Doesn’t matter if you’re older, you’re always a kid,” Jensen said. “They’re always your dad. So, that was really a tougher day. And I had a moment yesterday, we were practicing and I just started kind of choking up, so you tie your shoe. You can’t really explain it … but I really just will process it better later.”

Jensen stayed in Seattle after her father’s death, helping to coach the Hawkeyes to their first Final Four since 1993.

And throughout the day, Jensen said her players helped lift her up.

“When you see somebody you love going through something like that, it’s really tough,” fifth-year senior center Monika Czinano said. “But we knew it was one of her dad’s dreams to kind of see his team get to this point, and I truly believe he was here with us and smiling down on us. So, it felt really nice to be able to kind of give her something to help her in this time.”

But after Iowa’s victory in the Elite Eight, there was still work to do. 

Jensen, who said her father instilled a powerful work ethic and self-belief in her and her siblings while they were growing up, made sure to immerse herself in that work, blocking out the rest of the world.

“I think the only thing that I could do, I figured out on Monday and Tuesday, is I really have, I just need my nose to the scouts,” Jensen said. “I had Virginia Tech. So, I had to get all that done and I just have been so blessed with so many personal texts and messages, but I just have not looked at my phone.”

The Hawkeyes didn’t end up needing the scout for the Hokies. LSU took down Virginia Tech, 79-72, on Friday evening, and Iowa followed with an upset of top-seeded South Carolina, 77-73, that night.

Now, Iowa will take on LSU in the national championship on Sunday.

And Jensen, who carries a strong faith, knows her family is looking down and cheering for her. Her family members were always her biggest fans, Jensen said — her mother fully believed she could take over UConn head coach Geno Auriemma’s position.

Jensen’s mother, Yvonne Jensen, died at 78 shortly after Iowa’s Elite Eight run in 2015. In February 2020, Jensen’s brother, Doug, died suddenly of a heart attack.

“Oh my gosh, my dad, my brother and my mom. They’re all up there now,” Jensen said. “They have gotten every angel on the fence on our side. I am certain of that. They are fired up ready to go, loving every minute of it.”