IOWA CITY, Iowa – The University of Iowa’s official Twitter account (@TheIowaHawkeyes) did some bragging last week.
“Just call us B1G Athlete of the Year University,” said the tweet.
Hard to dispute that in 2019-20.
In a season that will be remembered for the games and contests that didn’t take place as well as those that did, Iowa athletes made it a season to remember.
From a team perspective, Iowa had one of its best athletic seasons ever. And behind that team success were some individual accomplishments that will be remembered for decades.
It’s been an embarrassment of riches. Even Mount Rushmore doesn’t have room for the faces of everyone honored.
Five Hawkeyes were named Big Ten Athlete of the Year in their respective sports: Spencer Lee in wrestling, Luka Garza in men’s basketball, Kathleen Doyle in women’s basketball, Laulauga Tausaga in indoor track (field) and Wayne Lawrence in indoor track.
But this is not the first time this has happened at Iowa. Five Hawkeyes were also named best in the Big Ten during the 1992-93 athletic season: Tracy Dahl, cross-country; Kristy Gleason, field hockey; Toni Foster, women’s basketball; Troy Steiner, wrestling; and Anthuan Maybank, men’s track and field.
All but Steiner are members of the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame. Gleason was inducted in 2004, Dahl and Maybank in 2010 and Foster in 2016.
Iowa had four different Big Ten athletes of the year in 1987-88, 1990-91 and 1991-92.
One thing struck me as I was reviewing this season’s five award-winning student-athletes. And it’s something I hope is remembered the next time a heralded in-state sports star decides to sign with a university outside Iowa.
None of this season’s five honorees are from Iowa. The closest is Doyle, who is from LaGrange Park, Ill. Lawrence is from Dayton, Ohio. Garza hails from Washington, D.C. Lee came from Murrysville, Pa. and Tausaga hails from Spring Valley, Calif. That’s a collective 4,132 miles away from Iowa City.
Doyle started the Hawkeye run when she was named the Big Ten’s best in women’s basketball on March 2. Her former teammate, Megan Gustafson, had won the award the previous two seasons. Before the Doyle-Gustafson combo, Iowa hadn’t had a player named the Big Ten’s best since Tangela Smith in 1997-98.
Doyle finished her senior season averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds, and was one of the best playmakers in the country with her 189 assists (sixth most nationally). Doyle was drafted by the Indiana Fever in the second round of last month’s WNBA Draft, the 14th player selected overall.
Garza has declared for the NBA Draft, and has until June to decide whether to return to Iowa for his senior year or skip that final season of eligibility. The consensus all-American center was named the Big Ten’s best on March 9, the fourth Hawkeye hoopster to be so honored and the first since Sam Williams in 1968.
Garza averaged 26.2 points in Big Ten play. He was the first player to reach the 26-point mark since Purdue’s Glenn Robinson in 1994 (31.1). Luka averaged 26.7 points and 11.1 rebounds in 12 games against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.
Lee was named the Big Ten’s top wrestler on March 8, after the gifted 125-pounder won his first Big Ten individual title and helped the Hawkeyes win their first undisputed league crown since 2010.
A junior and two-time NCAA champ, Lee was 18-0 and outscored opponents, 254-18. He won the Dan Hodge Trophy, which goes to the nation’s most dominant wrestler. He was named the NCAA Division I Most Dominant Wrestler. And he was co-winner of the AAU Sullivan Award, presented to the most outstanding amateur athlete in the nation.
Lee is the 11th different Hawkeye wrestler to be named the Big Ten’s best. For Tausaga and Lawrence, they were the first Hawkeyes in school history to be the league’s best in their given sport. Both were honored May 12. Tausaga was named Big Ten Field Athlete of the Year for the outdoor season in 2019 after winning the NCAA discus championship with a throw of 63.26 meters. She became Iowa’s first NCAA Outdoor champion since Nan Doak won the 10,000 meters in 1985.
A senior who will get a chance to compete again in 2020-21, Tausaga won the gold medal in the weight throw at the Big Ten Indoor Championships in Geneva, Ohio, in February. She did it with a mark of 22.21 meters on her fourth and final attempt. She was also a runner-up in the shot put.
Lawrence, a sophomore, scored 22.5 points and helped his team finish second. He won the 200 and 400 meters, and ran on the winning 4×400 meter relay. He set personal bests in all three races and set a school record in the 400 meters (45.56).
Both Tausaga and Lawrence were denied the opportunity to show their stuff at the NCAA Championships March 13-14 in Albuquerque, N.M. But they were named the Track and Field Athletes of the Big Ten Championships and then added to their credentials by being named the league’s athletes of the year.
We got to see the 1992-93 class in all its glory. Foster was a consensus all-American and three-time all-Big Ten player who competed in four straight NCAA Tournaments including the 1993 Final Four.
Dahl was Iowa’s first two-time NCAA champion. She won a pair of NCAA Indoor 5,000 meter titles (1992, 1993), and was a four-time all-American (cross country in 1991 and 1992, track and field in 1992 and 1993). She won two Big Ten Indoor and one Outdoor 5,000-meter titles.
Gleason was honored as the Big Ten’s best in field hockey in both 1992 and 1993 and was a four-time all-American and all-Big Ten pick. She was the second-leading scorer in NCAA history when her career ended and was recipient of the Big Ten’s 1994 Suzy Favor Athlete of the Year.
Steiner was a four-time all-American and won an NCAA individual title at 134 pounds in 1993.
Maybank was a four-time all-American (Indoor, 1992-93 and Outdoor, 1992-93) and won five Big Ten titles in the Indoor 400 meters (1991), Outdoor 400 meters (1991, 1993) and Indoor and Outdoor Long Jump (1993). He was a runner-up in the 1993 NCAA 400 meters and earned Olympic gold as a member of the 1996 1,600-meter relay team in Atlanta.
We’ll never know what the current Hawkeye Five would have accomplished had their seasons reached the finish line. Everyone feels a little cheated by that.
But Doyle, Lee, Garza, Tausaga and Lawrence were the Big Ten’s best, with seasons that will long be remembered.