Let us be among the first to welcome the three visiting teams to the NCAA on-campus women’s basketball regional here in Iowa City. (Sorry about the weather. We aren’t any happier than you are. It’s actually warmed up some).
Some of you had your sights set on a more glamorous location. Notre Dame wanted to be in beautiful Columbus, Ohio. While I’m sure Miami was hoping for something more balmy. Ditto UT-Martin, but No. 16 seeds don’t have a lot of choice.
Anyway, we’d like to introduce ourselves. Iowa has been among the most progressive states in supporting girls basketball. We’ve had state tournaments since 1920. And although it took awhile to fully embrace full-court, five-player basketball, we did so 28 years ago for those schools who wanted it. Twenty years ago we went whole hog and all of our high schools played the big-girl game.
But we’re still pretty proud of that six-player history that included sellouts for championship night and a shared cultural memory of little towns, coaches and players that excelled.
Our high schools have produced outstanding players, like Stanford’s Molly Goodenbour, a Final Four MVP on the Cardinal’s 1992 national championship team. We’ve produced Division I coaches like Nebraska’s Connie Yori, Colorado’s Linda Lappe, Maryland’s Brenda Frese, Iowa’s Lisa Bluder, Missouri’s Robin Pingeton, Drake’s Jennie Baranczyk and Tanya Warren at Northern Iowa.
We continue to produce good players despite our limited population because coaching girls basketball in Iowa has traditionally been a big deal. Some of the best coaches anywhere have coached girls basketball in this state. Girls athletics in general are treated with respect by the media and fans alike in Iowa.
So we may be a small Midwestern state far from the madding crowd, but we appreciate good basketball. The University of Iowa is lucky enough to count Hall of Famer Vivian Stringer among its former coaches. Stringer took one team to the Final Four and should have taken at least one other if the NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, hadn’t made Iowa play on the home court of Long Beach State in the regional final in 1988. The previous year Iowa lost to Louisiana Tech in Monroe, La. (not Tech’s home court but close enough), in a regional final.
Yes, we have long memories.
Iowans have played host to women’s NCAA regional finals in Iowa City, Ames and Des Moines. We’ve played host to numerous sub-regionals like the one this weekend.
So honestly, you haven’t been sent to the ends of the earth either in terms of women’s basketball or prevailing culture. You have in fact landed in a UNESCO-designated City of Literature. We are justly proud of the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop, which continues to provide support and sustenance for many of the country’s most talented writers.
The University of Iowa also was the home of James Van Allen, a real honest-to-goodness rocket scientist, for whom the Van Allen radiation belts were named. It was only fair. The native Iowan discovered them.
We’ll try to get to know you in the short time we have together. We know UT-Martin is Pat Summitt’s alma mater. That alone brings street cred. Miami survived the rigors of the ACC, a league that is still Tobacco Road oriented, but seems to have more parity every year.
And Notre Dame will bring an entourage worthy of the best team in the country not named Baylor. The Irish played three thrillers this season against UConn and won them all. They won at Tennessee. They have probably the best point guard in the nation in senior Skylar Diggins (she won the Nancy Lieberman award as a junior), but she’s not a one-woman show. The Irish just might be even better than last year’s team which put together back-to-back national championship game appearances.
Iowa, the home team, has lost in the first round in six of its last seven NCAA appearances, including the last time the first rounds were played in Iowa City. Clearly the team can’t quite get over being the perfect host or visitor. It’s that niceness problem we have here. The Hawkeyes will try to change that on Sunday.
It may seem a little quiet around here. Spring break ends Monday for the university and many of the surrounding high schools and the NCAA Dvision I wrestling tournament is in Des Moines right now. Wrestling is another of our afflictions in this state. But that’s another story for another time.
We’re happy to have you here, and we hope you enjoy your stay. Just remember to bundle up.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball