Remembering a Hawkeye Sports Year Cut Short During Historic Run of Success

March 26, 2020

Written by Rick Brown

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The 2019-20 athletic year at the University of Iowa will always be an untold story.

It was shaping up as possibly the greatest athletic year on record, with a depth of accomplishment that touched a majority of the school’s 22 men’s and women’s programs.

It all came to a screeching halt, faster than a Spencer Lee takedown. On March 12, the Big Ten Conference canceled the men’s basketball tournament as well as all conference and non-conference competitions through the end of the academic year because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Sixteen sports seasons ended prematurely. Fall sports were also affected. Iowa’s spring football practices were canceled earlier this week.

Gary Barta, in his 14th year as Iowa’s athletic director, knows that a special year was in progress. A year that was following in the footsteps of a 2018-19 season that saw Megan Gustafson rewrite the record books and earn national player of the year homors in college basketball. A year that saw Coach Lisa Bluder named national coach of the year after leading the Hawkeyes to regular-season and tournament Big Ten titles and the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

The football team finished 9-4 after an Outback Bowl victory over Mississippi State, and the men’s basketball team was 23-12 and an overtime loss away from the Sweet 16.

But rarely do sports and life conflict as they do now. The thrill of victory has been replaced by a worldwide crisis that puts winning and losing in perspective.

“The past few days have been focused on the impact of the COVID-19 virus,” Barta told HawkeyeNation this week. “My heart goes out to every person struggling to adjust to life during this pandemic. God bless us all.”

Barta also knows that when life returns to normal, the focus will become the success of his athletic teams. And 2019-20 was a truly rewarding experience.

This season was the fourth time in school history that football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball ended the season ranked in the Top 25 of the Associated Press poll, and the wrestling team won the Big Ten title.

Center Luka Garza was the Big Ten’s player of the year for men’s basketball. Guard Kathleen Doyle was the Big Ten player of the year for women’s basketball. And Lee, the Hawkeyes’ stellar 125 pounder, was named the Big Ten’s top wrestler. Iowa is the first school to have student-athletes win all three awards in the same season dating back to 1986.

“An unfortunate by-product of the crisis is not being able to appropriately celebrate our numerous team and individual accomplishments,” Barta said. “Hawkeye athletics has had a two-year run that, collectively, has been among the most successful in our history. I’m so proud of our student-athletes and coaches for their incredible accomplishments, both team and individual.”

Barta points out that the success of Iowa’s student-athletes in the classroom deserves equal billing.

“In addition to the long list of accomplishments, our student-athletes have maintained a record high Graduation Success Rate of 90 percent during this stretch,” Barta said.  “Iowa’s coaches and students are truly living out the Hawkeyes’ “Win, Graduate,Do It Right’ commitment.”

Three seasons – 1995-96, 1987-88 and 1986-87, rival the current one as the best in program history.  Here’s a look at those seasons.

1995-96 Iowa’s wrestling team successfully defended their Big Ten and NCAA championships.  Mark Ironside was named Big Ten Wrestler of the Year, and Dan Gable was the co-coach of the year.

The women’s basketball team finished the season ranked seventh in the AP poll with a 27-4 record. The Hawkeyes won the Big Ten regular-season title at 15-1, and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

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The men’s basketball team was 23-9, reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament and was 21st in the final poll.

The football team finished the season 8-4 and ranked 25th after a 38-18 victory over Washington in the Sun Bowl.

The field hockey team was the regular-season Big Ten champ and made the NCAA’s Elite Eight. And the softball team qualified for the College World Series.

1987-88 – The women’s basketball team won the Big Ten title at 17-1 and finished 29-2 overall after a loss to Long Beach State in the final of the NCAA West Regional.  They finished No. 2 in the AP poll.

The wrestling team won the Big Ten Championship and was a national runner-up. Royce Alger was named Big Ten Wrestler of the Year.

The football team won its last six games to finish 10-3 after a victory over Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl. They finished 16th in the AP poll.

The men’s basketball team was 24-10 and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. That team finished 17th in the AP poll.

The field hockey team was the Big Ten regular-season champion and finished fourth in the NCAA Championship. And John Davey was named Big Ten swimmer of the year.

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1986-87 – The men’s basketball team won their first 18 games of the season and reached the No. 1 position in the AP poll for the first time in program history.  They finished 30-5, a school record for single-season wins, and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes finished sixth in the AP poll.

The women’s basketball team went 26-5, won the Big Ten regular-season title (17-1) and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. That team finished ninth in the AP poll.

The wrestling team won the Big Ten Championship and was an NCAA runner-up. Alger was named Big Ten Wrestler of the Year, and Jim Heffernan won his fourth conference title.

The football team finished 16th in the AP poll.  The Hawkeyes were 9-3 after a victory over San Diego State in the Holiday Bowl.

The field hockey team won the Big Ten and NCAA titles, and the men’s gymnastics team won the Big Ten title. Davey was named Big Ten swimmer of the year.

Comparing 2019-20 to other great seasons will always include an element of “what if?” But here’s a closer look at the season that could have been, one that saw the wrestling, women’s basketball and men’s basketball teams go a collective 36-2 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Football: Beat Southern California in the Holiday Bowl, 49-24, to finish with a 10-3 record, the sixth double-digit victory total on Coach Kirk Ferentz’s resume. Placekicker Keith Duncan was a consensus all-American and the Big Ten’s Bakken-Anderson Kicker of the Year. Tristian Wirfs was the Big Ten’s Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year. A.J. Epenesa was first team all-Big Ten for a second straight season. Wirfs and Epenesa were second-team AP all-Americans.

Wrestling: Won its first outright Big Ten title since 2010, and was favored to add the NCAA title. Lee, Pat Lugo (149) and Alex Marinelli (165) won Big Ten titles. Lee was named the Most Dominant Wrestler in Division I by the NCAA after he finished 18-0. Lee is also a finalist for the Dan Hodge Trophy, which goes to the nation’s most dominant wrestler, as well as the AAU James E. Sullivan Award.

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Women’s Basketball: Doyle became the program’s third straight Big Ten Player of the Year recipient. Gustafson won it in 2018 and 2019.  Team went undefeated at home for a second straight season and will take a 36-game home winning streak into 2020-21. Doyle and sophomore center Monica Czinano were first-team all-Big Ten picks. Doyle was also a third-team AP all-American, and is a finalist for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Shooting Guard of the Year Award. Hawkeyes were 23-7 overall and ranked 21st in the final AP poll.

Men’s Basketball:  Finished the season 20-11. Seven victories came over ranked teams,  the most since 2005-06 (eight). Garza has received several national player of the year awards and was the program’s first consensus all-American since Chuck Darling in 1951-52. Garza scored at least 20 points in the final 16 Big Ten games, a school record. Garza became the first Iowa player since Adam Haluska in 2007 to lead the Big Ten in scoring. His 26.2-point average in Big Ten play was the most since Purdue’s Glenn Robinson (31.1) in 1994.

Field Hockey: Became the first team in program history to win both the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles. Lisa Cellucci was honored as Big Ten Coach of the Year. Team finished 17-5 and reached the NCAA Elite Eight. Senior Katie Birch became the third player in program history to become a three-time all-American. Birch was also a unanimous first-team all-Big Ten selection, her fourth career all-conference honor after she finished with 24 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 22 starts.

Soccer: Finished 15-5-1, tying a single-season school record for victories, and earned second NCAA appearance in program history. The other 15-win season came in 2003, when Iowa made its first trip to the NCAAs. Program made its debut in the United Soccer Coaches poll on Sept .17, at No. 19. Hawkeyes led the Big Ten in goals per game, at 2.1.

Women’s Gymnastics: Winning 196.750 effort against West Virginia was the best team score since 2017. Sophomore Lauren Guerin was named to the 2020 WCGA all-America second team on the floor routine. She became the program’s fifth all-American, and first since 2016.

Men’s Gymnastics: Team was ranked No. 9 nationally, beating No. 22 Northern Illinois and losing to No. 5 Ohio State in what turned out to be the final meet of the season.

Baseball: A 10-5 start included victories over No. 14 Duke, No. 18 Arizona and No. 20 North Carolina. Coach Rick Heller won his 900th career game.

Softball: Team was 17-5, the third-best start in program history and two victories shy of theirwin total in Coach Renee Gillispie’s inaugural season.

Rowing: Ranked 13th in U.S. Rowling/CRCA Preseason poll, extending Iowa’s program record to 30 consecutive weeks in the national rankings.

Men’s Tennis: Won 10 of 11 home matches, including a triumph over No. 16 Cornell, and appeared in the ITA Division I National Rankings for the first time in program history at No. 20.

Women’s Tennis: Senior Elise van Heuvelen Treadwell was 10-1 in singles, the best start for a Hawkeye since Sonja Molnar went 11-1 in 2010. Van Heuvelen had a chance to become the program’s fourth four-time all-Big Ten selection and first since Molnar (2009-12).

Track and Field: Heading into the NCAA Indoor Championships, the men’s program was ranked 16th and the women’s program 19th in the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Top 25 Week 7 poll. Iowa had six athletes with Top 16 rankings heading into the NCAA Indoor Championships. Laulauga Tausaga ranked second in the shot put and ninth in the weight throw; Jaylan McConico. second in the 60-meter hurdles; Wayne Lawrence. third in the 400 meters and 16th in the 200 meters; Jenny Kimbro, fourth in the pentathlon;

Will Daniels, 13th in the heplathlon; and Mallory King, 16th in the 800 meters. In addition, Lawrence and DeJuan Frye, Raymund Clarke and Antonio Woodard ranked fourth in the 4×400-meter relay.

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