By Jordan Zuniga
Opening weekend in college basketball, men’s or women’s, is generally dominated with power teams stomping lesser opponents.
The Iowa women’s basketball team took the opposite approach; it opened its weekend with, in head coach Lisa Bluder’s words, “the toughest opening tournament in the United States.”
While there’s probably an argument against this past weekend’s Hawkeye Challenge being the toughest tournament, it was undeniably entertaining.
The Hawkeyes opened the tournament — and their season — against Quinnipiac, a team that won 29 games in route to a Sweet-16 appearance last season.
Although the final score was 83-67, it was a game in which both teams struggled to gain a significant lead until Iowa did about mid-fourth quarter.
But the win meant more than the Hawkeyes first of the season — it was Bluder’s 700th career victory as a coach.
Carver-Hawkeye’s video board flashed Bluder’s career, giving her time to reflect on her career.
“Anytime you have a milestone win, it just gives you that time to reflect,” Bluder said. “I told the women in the locker room after that I’ve been able to coach a lot of great women over the years, but this group is really special, and I’m glad I got to share that [milestone] with this group.”
With the win, Bluder is now one of 10 active women’s college basketball coaches with 700 or more wins, 29th on the all-time list.
It’s a significant milestone, and even though most of her players have only been with Bluder for a small fraction of those wins, they gleamed with pride all the same.
“It’s super-special that I get to be a part of this program and play under Coach Bluder,” Kathleen Doyle said. “She’s an awesome coach and even better lady, so I feel really blessed to be a part of this program.”
The milestone is evidence of Bluder’s mastery of coaching quality basketball teams, but what it doesn’t show is the quality of women she has produced.
For many years, Bluder and her teams have volunteered for Habitat for Humanity to start off the year, and under her 17-year reign at Iowa, she has had student-athletes named Academic All-Big Ten 86 times.
Bluder’s desire to better both the player and person in every young woman she coaches is the reason her players hold her is such high regard.
“It’s amazing being able to be a part of this team and have Coach Bluder as our coach,” Megan Gustafson said. “She cares about us not just as basketball players but off the court, too, so to play for someone like that is really special.”
Iowa will return to action Wednesday, when it tips off at 7 p.m. against Northern Illinois in Carver-Hawkeye.