Monica Huelman Zaruba was Bill Fennelly’s first women’s basketball recruit at Iowa State University. She was a former Gazette Athlete of the Year.
And now, suddenly and sadly, she’s gone.
Zaruba died early Sunday morning after a sudden illness. She was 40.
“The sadness we feel is numbing, and it hopefully will encourage us to all celebrate life and family just as Mo did,” Fennelly said in a statement Sunday night.
Zaruba’s father, Ken Huelman, posted on Facebook his daughter died at 1 a.m. Sunday.
“We are heartbroken over the loss of Monica,” he said. “She was hospitalized for a week ... We love her so much and are proud of her accomplishments during her short life.”
The 1996 Gazette Female Athlete of the Year and a 2012 inductee into the IGHSAU Basketball Hall of Fame, Huelman Zaruba led Vinton-Shellsburg to the girls’ state basketball tournament three times, winning the Class 3A championship in 1995. A 6-foot-3 post, she averaged 24.1 points per game as a senior, shooting 63 percent from the field, and finished her prep career with 1,809 points and 663 rebounds.
Zaruba also competed in volleyball and track and field in high school.
“Obviously, she was a very good athlete, not just a good basketball player,” Harold Shepherd, her high school coach, said Monday morning. “She was a wonderful kid. She never said a bad word about anybody.
“You just hate to see anything like this. We are hurting ... hurting bad.”
Zaruba picked Iowa State at a time when Fennelly was just getting the program established. She appeared in 125 games for the Cyclones between 1996 and 2000, compiling 513 points and 486 rebounds.
“She was the first kid that we recruited, and she took maybe the biggest gamble of any kid we ever recruited,” Fennelly said upon Zaruba’s hall-of-fame induction in 2012. “She trusted us at a time when she didn’t have to. There wasn’t anything here (yet) to trust.”
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One of her most memorable moments as a Cyclone came in the Sweet 16 in 1999, against top-seeded Connecticut. The heavily favored Huskies led 50-44 when Zaruba hit a 3-pointer, setting off a barrage of ISU treys as the Cyclones pulled off a 64-58 upset.
Zaruba graduated from ISU with a degree in horticulture in 2000. She most recently resided in Cedar Rapids and worked for Country Landscapes in North Liberty as a landscape management specialist, according to the company’s website.
She is survived by her husband, Terry.
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