IOWA CITY — For four years, they have earned your attention.
Sunday afternoon, they’ll warrant your attendance. And, if you’re inclined, your tears.
Megan Gustafson, Tania Davis and Hannah Stewart say goodbye to Carver-Hawkeye Arena — for now — when 11th-ranked Iowa (22-6 overall, 13-4 Big Ten) concludes its women’s basketball regular season against Northwestern (16-12, 9-8).
Tipoff is 3 p.m.
“I know we’ve sold a lot of tickets,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said during her press conference Wednesday. “I am anticipating the biggest crowd in Carver since C. Vivian Stringer was here.
“Rightfully so, I think it is going to be an emotional ceremony afterward and I don’t think anybody is going to want to miss it.”
Bluder got a head start on her emotions Wednesday, choking up twice when chronicling the careers of her senior trio.
“It is really gratifying, but it is also kind of sad, you know?” she said. “As a mother, you’re supposed to prepare your children to go out and conquer the world when they leave the nest. You’re supposed to do the same thing with your players, and that is what I hope I’ve done.”
A win Sunday and a good run in the Big Ten tournament next week would guarantee that the Hawkeyes will be back at Carver for at least one game — and probably two — of the NCAA tournament.
But this is the day for the speeches, the flowers, the hugs, the tears.
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“It’s going to be crazy,” said Davis, who has overcome two ACL tears, two knee surgeries and two grueling rehabs to get back to this point. “I knew I was up (Tuesday) night just constantly just thinking about Sunday and you know it’s going to be my last guaranteed opportunity to run out of that tunnel and play in front of those great fans.”
“I know from day one they have accepted me whether I’ve been injured or whether I’ve been actually out there on the court. Definitely they have supported me, loved me, so playing for them one last time is going to be great.”
Davis, who is 5-foot-3, met her basketball classmates — Gustafson, Stewart and Tagyn Larson (who would transfer after one season) at summer orientation in 2015.
“I just saw a group of tall girls,” Davis said. “I was like, ‘OK, those must be my teammates.’”
Davis has overcome the knee surgeries. Stewart developed after two nondescript seasons to become a captain — and a complement to Gustafson — as a junior and senior.
And in a quiet and humble, yet wildly efficient manner, Gustafson blossomed into the best player the program has ever seen.
“Hannah and Tania did such a great job of welcoming me. Just being those goofballs that were just trying to get me out of my shell,” Gustafson said. “They tried to include me and eventually I was able to open up.
“It has been a fun ride with those two, for sure.”
Douglas Miles contributed to this report
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