Senior Day Spotlight: Tenacious Kathleen Doyle Serves as Hawkeye Heartbeat
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder had some reservations the first time she made a recruiting trip to watch Kathleen Doyle.
“She was an undersized point guard in high school,” Bluder said. “I thought, “I don’t know if she’s big enough to play at this level.’ ”
So Bluder kept looking for her future point guard. And Doyle, who played at Benet Academy in LaGrange, Ill., accepted a scholarship offer from Nebraska.
A growth spurt later, Doyle had become the point guard prospect Bluder had been looking for.
“Oh, man, we have to compete against that now,’ ” Bluder recalls thinking.
But this is a story with a happy Hawkeye ending. Doyle had second thoughts about her commitment, took another look at Iowa and decided that’s where she wanted to spend her next four years.
“I think everything happens for a reason,” Doyle said. “I think God has a plan for me. I believe I was meant to be at Iowa. I don’t regret the decisions I’ve made. And I’m really glad to be a Hawk.”
Bluder’s glad, too. A season that started with little fanfare after the graduation of national player Megan Gustafson has become another feel-good story. Iowa is in the thick of the Big Ten race and a lock for another trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Bluder told Athletic Director Gary Barta before the season started that she thought this could be an NCAA team.
“But being in the Top 20, and 21-5? Probably not,” Bluder admitted.
With Gustafson and Hannah Stewart gone from the post as well as point guard Tania Davis, Bluder scraped an offense that got the Hawkeyes to the Elite Eight last season and went in a different direction.
Instead of pounding the ball inside, Iowa went to a guard-oriented attack.
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“We had a dynamic duo inside (last year), and we wanted to take advantage of it,” Doyle said. “This year is more about attacking the basket and playing off one another as guards.”
Bluder knew a change was necessary to fit the talent on her roster. She also knew it was a bit of a gamble.
“You kind of feel sorry for your seniors when you change the offense because now they all become freshmen in the summer,” Bluder said.
Gamble? Iowa is 22-5 overall and 13-3 in Big Ten play heading into Thursday’s game against Minnesota (7:30 p.m. CT, BTN+). It will be the final game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena for Doyle and her fellow seniors. A place where Iowa has won 35 consecutive games.
Doyle is averaging 20.4 points in her final trip through the Big Ten, and 18.4 points overall. Her 172 assists lead the Big Ten and are fifth nationally. Her 689 career assists are second all-time at Iowa, and her 1,491 points rank 13th.
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In Iowa’s most recent triumph, a 100-57 breather against Penn State Saturday, Doyle’s value to this team was obvious. She scored 18 points in 24 minutes, along with seven assists. She was on the floor for 49 offensive possessions. She touched the ball on 40 of them. She also dug out loose balls, grabbed offensive rebounds, made a steal and called time out to save a 5-second violation.
“I’d say she’s just more aggressive,” senior running mate Makenzie Meyer said. “Without Megan in the post she knows she’s going to have to do more scoring and she’s done a good job of capitalizing on that.”
Meyer appreciates Doyle’s passion and aggressiveness on the court.
“Defensively she’s aggressive on every single play, and doesn’t take any possessions off,” Meyer said.
Doyle’s experience, accumulated over four seasons, 120 games and 111 starts, is an obvious plus as Iowa prepares for the season’s stretch run.
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“I’m so impressed with how she’s elevated her game this year,” Bluder said. “I think the offense gives her more ability to do the things she’s capable of doing. It showcases her talents a little more. I think she’s playing just so hard on every possession.”
In a perfect world, every player would give 100 percent on each play. But not everyone is named to the 2020 Wade Trophy Top 40 Watch List. And not everyone is an academic all-American or a double major (journalism and mass communications and Spanish) with a 3.83 grade-point average.
“Kathleen is so driven, and she’s such a competitor, and she wants to win so badly,” Bluder said. “She wants to bring the team along with her, and I just see her leadership skills getting better and better this year. Because not only is she leading by example, but she’s trying to hold her teammates accountable.”
Bluder feels that Doyle is a great candidate for the Big Ten’s Player of the Year award. The proof is in Iowa’s record.
“We weren’t on the map at the beginning of the year,” Bluder said. “And now here we are, ranked in the Top 25 and sitting toward the top of the Big Ten. Without Kathleen Doyle do we do that? I think the answer is probably no. To me she’s one of the best players in the Big Ten Conference.”
The ’18-19 season will always be overflowing with fond memories – Gustafson, the Big Ten and National Player of the Year; Bluder, the National Coach of the Year; A 29-7 season, including an Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA Tournament; and a Big Ten Tournament title.
But ’19-20 has become a memorable season as well.
“We worked super hard all off-season to try and not have that drop-off,” Doyle said. “It was fair for people to think that (would happen), because of who we graduated. But we didn’t focus on that. We focused on what we still had, and we’ve made the most of it for sure.”