Back on March 18th, 2023, the Clarke Women’s Basketball team achieved a feat that would change the history of the university forever. A day after beating Dakota State in the Final Four to advance to the National Championship Game the Clarke Women’s Basketball team brought home the first National Championship in school history. Jenna Blunt, who was on the National Championship team in 2022-2023 and is still currently a member of the team, explains the feelings these players felt in this historic moment. “Tears were flowing before the buzzer went off, the adrenaline and excitement was insane. I remember watching everybody storm the court, and all of us just having no words to say other than “oh my gosh” over and over, screaming, tears of joy, hugs, we couldn’t believe it. It felt like we were living in a dream for the entire week we were there, and to end it like that we were all just completely in shock not because we didn’t believe, but because it was the most perfect way to end a season obviously but especially with the group, we had it was so deserved and rewarding.”
Coming off of the 2009-2010 season at a record of 6-25 nobody would have thought this team would be national champions of the NAIA 13 years later. This shows the perseverance and resilience that this group of players have. This is why it means so much more to the players, students, alumni, and community. This program has not always been successful every year, which is why the recent stretch of amazing play is invigorating. Getting over the hump of the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 would be the true test. For the past 4 seasons everyone could feel how close this team was to ultimate success. It was only a matter of time until they broke through. One of the reasons this team was so successful down the stretch was because of how connected they were to one another. “I think most of our success came from how much fun we had together,” said Blunt. “Nobody cared about individual stats, we all were just happy for one another even if we personally weren’t playing the best or having the best day. That was the biggest difference and was what separated us from the rest.” Truly, this is what championship teams are made of, now this group is tied together for the rest of their lives with this achievement. They knew it was about more than their individual stats or honors they could acquire. Team chemistry is what can calm a team in big moments and allow them to play freely with the trust they have in one another. This is a firsthand example of a great team and teammates being more valuable than individual talent.
On Wednesday January 10th following the 87-84 win vs Mount Mercy the staff and players were able to receive their Championship Rings. Clarke received the Championship trophy shortly after the 63-52 victory. This, however, was a different ceremony as the players and staff now have something they can remember this historic day by at their side. I met with Curt Long the Clarke Athletic Director shortly following the ring ceremony and he said “the visibility has been outstanding on a national level, people throughout the NAIA know who Clarke is now, our community and the state of Iowa has never won a women’s basketball national championship. We never could have planned this, kudos and praise to the coaches and players. Winning a national championship in any sport is something that does not happen without tremendous focus and great work by lots of individuals. To take that moment and understand the meaning of it is so important.”
“Seeing the ring for the first time, brought it all back full circle. We’ve obviously been talking about getting our rings since the night we won it, but to be able to see them and see them for the first time together was special. We plan to wear them at graduation, and Coach L is graduating from the MBA program at Clarke so he will be back to wear them with us. It is special to know we will have yet another thing to share together forever. Standing on the court at the ring ceremony though as we all got announced, I think we all were trying to hold back tears. We truthfully just miss each other, and to be there together again with everybody was hard. After the game, we came out of the locker room and there we all were again in a group. Boyd gave Hocking a long hug, and I could feel myself tearing up. I don’t think returners have yet fully adapted to the drastic change in the environment, and to experience again being with the teammates and coaches we spent the former years with was bittersweet,” Blunt said. This was a significant moment for Clarke and one no one can take away from this group. This is an accomplishment that will be remembered for decades, and it will keep this group close. Out of all the teams in the NAIA it is crazy to think a team out of Dubuque, Iowa was better than everyone else. Blunt said it best regarding the feelings of her teammates and the community after they won it all. “Clarke women’s basketball was due for a national championship and was so deserving of one.”