June 24, 2024

Caitlin Clark continues to set scoring records, dominate TV ratings, and become a household name in pop culture. Many of her accomplishments make me smile, but just for a moment. Then I grimaced.

I’ve been trying for a while to figure out what a collegiate sports rivalry — specifically, the Cy-Hawk rivalry between Iowa State and Iowa — means when evaluating Clark. Do rising tides lift all boats? Or is it more of a zero-sum game, with Clark’s rise effectively putting an end to any debate about the greatest women’s basketball programme in the state?

If it’s the latter, I want to dislike Clark. Because she has harmed Iowa State, which I have supported my entire life, with her talent and celebrity. After all, that is what sports rivals do, correct? Villainize their opponents, particularly the most successful ones. Invest emotionally in their failure so that it is even more fulfilling when (if) they eventually fall short in some way?

The “best programme” question had been on my mind for many years before Clark relocated to Iowa City, as women’s basketball is, by far, the Cyclones sport I’ve been most invested in while attending Iowa State in 2001-2005. Only once in ten years of working nights and weekends did I lose my professional composure, and it was during a women’s basketball game on March 28, 2009, when Iowa State scored an unlikely last-minute comeback in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16. Michigan State, leading by two points and attempting to move against Iowa State’s press, launched a cross-court pass that appeared on our little Register-copy-desk television to fly over the fingertips of players from both sides. I jumped to my feet and exclaimed, “It should be.

Bill Fennelly has been the head coach at Iowa State since 1995, and Lisa Bluder has been at Iowa since 2000. Until a few years ago, they coached their schools to remarkable even records. Iowa State had slightly greater success in the NCAA tournament, reaching the Elite Eight on two occasions. Each school won several conference tournaments. When they faced each other, the home team won ten consecutive games. They competed for recruits, including Caitlin Clark of West Des Moines Dowling Catholic, who had three finalists: Notre Dame, Iowa State, and Iowa. You might make valid claims that one was slightly more impressive than the other, but the truth was that both were good but not dominant programmes that were enjoyable to watch and cheer for.



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