Iowans celebrate Caitlin Clark, Lisa Bluder and the team that changed basketball

Iowans came together on April 10, 2024 to celebrate Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes womens basketball team, deemed the team that changed the game.
Iowans came together on April 10, 2024 to celebrate Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes women’s basketball team, deemed the team that “changed the game.”
Zach Spindler-Krage

The University of Iowa women’s basketball team ended their season just as they started it — in front of thousands of screaming Iowans donning star player Caitlin Clark’s No. 22 jersey.

At an end-of-season celebration to honor the Hawkeyes team in Iowa City on Wednesday, some fans cried as the five senior players were announced in Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the last time, a testament to the impact these players have had on the state of Iowa.

But over the course of the season, it became clear that this team’s influence stretched far beyond Iowa’s borders. All across the stadium on Wednesday, signs read “Changed the Game,” a nod to what has been deemed the ‘Caitlin Clark Effect’ — the unprecedented attention native Iowan Caitlin Clark has drawn to college basketball.

This season, the Hawkeyes set women’s basketball viewing records on seven major networks. The National College Athletic Association (NCAA) title match between Iowa and South Carolina garnered an average of 18.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched basketball game, men’s or women’s, professional or college, since 2019. 

The team has also set attendance records, drawing 55,000 fans to their preseason game hosted at Kinnick Stadium and breaking the NCAA single-game attendance record for women’s basketball. At home in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, season tickets sold out for the first time in program history. At away games, schools that hosted Iowa saw an average attendance increase of over 150% compared to their other home games. 

“There’s thousands and thousands of girls and boys all around this country that say, ‘I want to be like them,’” Lisa Bluder, Iowa women’s basketball coach, said of the team’s seniors.

“We are now the epicenter for women’s sports,” said Barbara J. Wilson, president of University of Iowa. “This team exemplifies how we can bring thousands of people together. People from all types of backgrounds. People who did not think about women’s basketball before the season.”

The mayor of Iowa City, Bruce Teague, issued a proclamation establishing April 10, 2024 as Iowa Women’s Basketball Day, referencing the impact they have made not only on basketball, but on communities in Iowa. A Common Sense Institute study released in March showed that Iowa women’s basketball has added as much as $82.5 million to the state’s economy over the past three seasons.

We are now the epicenter for women’s sports.

— Barbara J. Wilson, president of University of Iowa

After the event Wednesday, kids and adults alike swarmed the court, pressing against security guards and jostling each other to get to the players. For nearly 20 minutes, Clark and Bluder, among others on the team, made their way around the court, signing autographs and taking selfies with fans.

Iowa ended their season with a 34-5 record after making back-to-back title game appearances. Clark has declared for the Women’s National Basketball Association draft, where she is expected to be the first selection by the Indiana Fever.

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