2019 in review: The Gazette's top 10 Eastern Iowa sports stories

Ogden column: 3 of the top 4 happened in the last month

Former Iowa football coach Hayden Fry died on Dec. 17 at the age of 90.
Former Iowa football coach Hayden Fry died on Dec. 17 at the age of 90.

We media folks like our lists.

We have our weekly “5 Things” about Iowa and Iowa State opponents during the football season. We often have “5 Things” to watch for before a new season begins, or a big event.

This time of year, we also like our year-end lists. You know, the memorials on TV and radio to those celebrities and important people who died and, of course, the best (and sometimes worst) of the previous year.

We, too, like to look back and figure out what the most important stories of the year were. I asked our sports staff to weigh in and then vote.

Three of the top four stories of 2019 happened in the last month. The top story, Hayden Fry’s death on Dec. 17, was the landslide No. 1 story with eight of the nine first-place votes and 89 of a possible 90 points.

Here is our Top 10 stories of the year and, since I didn’t bury the lead, we’ll do it in reverse order. As always, we encourage you give us your thoughts. You can email me at the address below.

10. Iowa State men’s basketball

The Cyclones went into the Big 12 tournament in March with a 20-11 overall mark and 9-9 conference ledger, losing to Texas Tech, 80-73, in the regular-season finale. Seeded fifth, Iowa State reeled off wins over Baylor, Kansas State and Kansas to capture their fourth tournament title in six years and became the lowest seed in Big 12 history to win a championship. The Cyclones lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.


8. (tie) Minor League baseball contraction

Major League Baseball is considering eliminating 42 Minor League teams. “The List” was leaked and three Iowa teams were on it — Burlington, Clinton and Quad Cities. The Cedar Rapids Kernels were not, but they could, and likely would, be affected by such a move.



8. (tie) Spencer Lee

The University of Iowa junior capped his sophomore season with his second NCAA title at 125 pounds. He won 23 of his 26 matches and outscored his five NCAA opponents, 55-7. Then on Dec. 22, he won a U.S. Senior National title at 57 kg, outscoring five opponents, 52-6, and earning a berth in the Olympic Trials.


7. Corby Laube

After leading the Marion girls’ basketball team to a runner-up finish in 2019 (and state title in 2018), Laube took a leave of absence in May and within weeks resigned as coach and activities director. In August, he surrendered his license to teach and coach in Iowa. No reason was ever given for his abrupt departure, but Laube told The Gazette in May he was “ready to put my priorities back into my family, health and faith.”


6. Western Dubuque football

The fall of 2019 won’t soon be forgotten at the Epworth high school. The Bobcats capped a 13-0 season with a 37-17 win over Solon in the Class 3A state football championship. Along the way, Western Dubuque toppled two-time defending state champion Cedar Rapids Xavier, 20-14, in October, snapping the Saints’ 32-game win streak.


5. Girls’ wrestling

This twist on an old sport took the state, and country, by storm last year and it’s a story that is only going to get bigger and bigger. The first “girls’ state tournament” was held in Waverly last year — it remains an unsanctioned sports (for now) — and this season more and more schools have formed “girls only” teams, meaning they are not practicing or wrestling with the boys’ teams.


4. Bump Elliott death

The man who molded University of Iowa athletics in the 1970s and ’80s — and hired coaches like Fry, Dan Gable, Lute Olson and Tom Davis — died Dec. 7 at the age of 94. Iowa won 41 Big Ten and 11 NCAA titles during his tenure. His impact was not only felt in football, basketball and wrestling, however. The Iowa baseball and gymnastics teams won three Big Ten titles each. “Bump’s footprint will forever shine on Iowa athletics,” current Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said in a statement.


3. Iowa football 2019

The Hawkeyes completed a memorable 2019 season on Friday with a 49-24 thumping of USC in the Holiday Bowl. Losses to Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin — by a total of 14 points — put a damper on te season for some fans, but Iowa (10-3) finished with the sixth 10-plus-win season under Coach Kirk Ferentz and won its third straight bowl game for only the second time in school history.


2. Megan Gustafson

What the Iowa senior did in 2019 was beyond remarkable. She was the Naismith national player of the year, as well as Associated Press and ESPN player of the year. She was a first-team All-American, of course, and the Big Ten player of the year, as well as MVP of the Big Ten tournament. She averaged 27.8 points and 13.4 rebounds per game as a senior, leading the Hawkeyes to a 29-7 record that included a Big Ten tournament title and a berth in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. She then was drafted in the second round of the WNBA Draft by the Dallas Wings, released, the re-signed. She is playing in Europe now.


1. Hayden Fry death

 The man who turned Iowa football from a perennial loser into Big Ten champions died on Dec. 17 in Dallas. The outpouring of love, respect and admiration continues to this day and will for a long time. Fry compiled a 143-89-6 record at Iowa, taking the Hawkeyes to three Rose Bowl appearances among the 14 bowls the Hawks played in under his direction. While his record was outstanding, his coaching tree is remarkable — Barry Alvarez, Dan McCarney, Bill Snyder and Bob Stoops, who directed Oklahoma to a national title. And that’s not the entire list. He was a beloved figure across the state and some of this “Fryisms” — “scratch where it itches” — are repeated to this day. The Iowa team even did the “Hokey Pokey” — a Fry staple — after winning the Holiday Bowl on Friday.


“Every day, he set a standard for leadership, he set a standard for excellence and he did things with character and integrity,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. Ferentz. by the way, is another branch on the Fry tree.


Other stories that didn’t make the Top 10, but got votes were Iowa State football earning its third straight bowl trip, Iowa men’s basketball with Jordan Bohannon’s two hip surgeries and Tyler Cook’s departure for the NBA, North Linn’s boys’ state basketball title run, Grinnell College ending its football season early, UNI’s football run to the FCS quarterfinals, Kirkwood winning another men’s NJCAA basketball title and Hawkeye Downs getting new owners.

It was another remarkable year. I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.