‘I’m proud to be an Iowa girl’: The legacy Hawkeyes’ Lisa Bluder leaves behind

‘I’m proud to be an Iowa girl’: The legacy Hawkeyes’ Lisa Bluder leaves behind

Lisa Bluder is an Iowan through and through.

“I’m proud to be an Iowa girl leading the University of Iowa,” Bluder said at the 2023 Final Four.

Bluder is a graduate of Northern Iowa who began her coaching career at St. Ambrose and eventually moved on to Drake. In 2000, she took her biggest job yet — but she didn’t do it alone.

Bluder’s top two assistants, Jan Jensen and Jenni Fitzgerald, came along for the ride.

“She coached me way back when. I saw her in the locker room as a player and she took a chance on this young coach,” Jensen said.

“They were both with me at Drake for eight years,” Bluder said. “I asked them to come over here with me. Jan could’ve stayed there and been the head coach at Drake.”

Together, this trio of women turned Iowa into a perennial tournament team. Bluder passed the great C. Vivian Stringer for most wins in program history. She won the Big Ten Tournament a record five times, putting stars on the court every step of the way.

But Bluder had bigger goals: “We had a dream. We wanted to make it to a Final Four, we wanted to fill Carver.”

And sure enough, two decades into their journey, a player special enough came along who could make that dream a reality. Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes took the program to new heights, turning Carver-Hawkeye Arena into the mecca of women’s basketball and reaching the Final Four not once, but twice.

“She’s one of the best coaches of all time,” Clark said. “I don’t think she always gets the credit she deserves, but she’s a Hall of Fame coach — there’s no doubt about that.”

While they never quite won a national championship together, they put the sport in a spotlight it’s never been before.

“Yes, you’d love a shiny trophy, but the impact that you had on young women and this sport doesn’t get tarnished,” Bluder said to her team after Iowa’s loss to South Carolina.

You can’t tell the story of women’s basketball without Lisa Bluder. Her final message to fans as the head coach of Iowa women’s basketball was to keep doing what they’ve been doing.

“Please come back next year, alright?” Bluder said. “Promise me that you’ll fill Carver-Hawkeye Arena again next year.”

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