Sometimes, you just end up in the right place at the right time.
Following the conclusion of Iowa’s national championship defeat to LSU, Monika Czinano and Caitlin Clark found themselves standing outside the locker room awaiting their final postgame presser, their emotions on display like an open wound. After all, they just lost the biggest basketball game of their lives, and the final game as teammates for Czinano and Clark.
Clark’s tears streaming down her cheek, her head on her partner’s shoulder. A three-week run of all-time high after all-time high finally came crashing down. Nothing could change the fact that the final chapter of this journey had been written as Clark entombed her head deeper into Czinano’s shoulder.
Two of Iowa’s top three all-time scorers played together in unison, and took them to heights never reached before. Clark can play another pair of seasons if she uses her COVID year, but this was Czinano’s COVID year. Czinano, along with starting forward McKenna Warnock, played their final games as Hawkeyes.
The finality of a championship loss, and her two teammates’ careers, was all on Clark’s mind after the game.
“I was just trying to enjoy every single second,” Clark said. “Two people I’ve started 93 games with. It hasn’t sunk in that I’ll never get to play with them ever again, but relishing every second that we had out there.”
Clark showed her emotions in the video I captured, Kate Martin shared it with her words:
“It’s going to be weird being in the locker room without them next year,” a teary-eyed Martin said. “I’m just super proud of them, not only as basketball players but as people — those are two of the best I’ve ever been around. I couldn’t ask for any better teammates.”
Lisa Bluder’s done this dance before. She watched Megan Gustafson and countless other seniors say their Hawkeye goodbyes. But nearly 40 years into being a head coach, it doesn’t get easier.
“You coach someone for four and five years you get to know them really well,” Bluder said. “You build relationships. To think of the locker room next year without Monika and McKenna being there, it’s almost too much right now to think about.”
“I want to coach them again. I wish I could coach them tomorrow.”
The saddest part of it all, Czinano and Warnock didn’t even get to finish the game on the floor. Both Hawkeyes fouled out, playing 22 and 25 minutes respectively.
Czinano, on brand, handled it with class:
“I just love this team so much and that’s why it hurts so bad,” Czinano said. “When you have something this fun and this exciting — it hurts to have to step away from it. Regardless, today there was going to be tears, so I’m really proud of this team.”
For McKenna Warnock, it was hard to find many words to say about what she’ll miss the most:
“Just the love, honestly, ” Warnock said. “That’s the hardest part. Not being able to see them every day… (chokes up).”
But, the tears were quickly wiped away for these Hawkeyes — and the celebration begun. Their return home yesterday featured McKenna Warnock taking pictures with fans — sporting her Big Ten championship t-shirt. Clark marching off the team bus showing off the team’s regional championship in Seattle, with Czinano right behind her.
The season wasn’t defined by championship disappointment, it was highlighted as the one that transcended the sport. Just look at the TV ratings, Iowa played in the most watched Elite 8 (2.5 million viewers), Final Four (5.5), and national championship (9.9) in the sport’s history. That’s Caitlin Clark-driven, but her light shined on her teammates, coaches and women’s college basketball.
Fans can hardly wait for next season: Iowa had to pause season ticket deposits due to overwhelming demand.
Yeah, losing hurts. Getting to a national championship is hard enough, who knows when the next time Iowa will be in that spot. But equally, that’s why it’s worth celebrating.
Here’s a long list of things Caitlin Clark did this past month:
- First 30-point triple-double in Big Ten tournament history
- Big Ten tournament MVP (again)
- First 40-point triple-double in NCAA tournament history (men or women)
- Back-to-back 41-point games
- Led Iowa past 36-0 South Carolina
- Led Iowa to its second Final Four, and first national championship appearance
- Recognized as the national player of the year (Naismith, AP, Wooden, Drysdale, Wade)
- Finished with the most points in tournament history (men or women)
Let me know if I missed anything. But I’ll leave you all with this:
Legendary bowler Pete Weber said before his retirement: “Love me or hate me, you watched.” And you watched Caitlin Clark played basketball. You cared about this wonderful group of women. You embraced Gabbie “the pretty–eyed sniper” Marshall. You called Kate Martin “the glue” every time she knocked down a clutch three. You cheered against Angel Reese like she was the Joker in a Batman movie.
And… I can prove it. Hawkeye Headquarters content on our website shattered 30-day records during this run.
Fans who never cared about basketball — let alone women’s basketball — found themselves cheering for the black and gold. Little girls — and boys — will shoot from as far as they can and pretend to be Caitlin Clark, who inspired an entire generation.
You watched Iowa take over the world for a month. And you may never see it again. So, celebrate this team. They’re unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and you may never see again.
Roll the credits. And Iowa women’s basketball, take a bow.