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    Tuesday, July 23, 2024

    Lisa Bluder retires after Clark-led Iowa teams reach last two NCAA title games

    Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder, left, stands with associate head coach Jan Jensen before a college women’s basketball game against Nebraska on Jan. 27 in Iowa City, Iowa. Bluder announced Monday she is retiring after leading the Hawkeyes for 24 seasons. Jensen, longtime assistant to Bluder, was named the new head coach. (Charlie Neibergall/AP File Photo)

    Lisa Bluder, who coached the Iowa women's basketball team to the last two NCAA championship games, announced Monday that she is retiring after 24 years leading the Hawkeyes. Her longtime assistant, Jan Jensen, was named her successor.

    Bluder made the announcement five weeks after Iowa lost to South Carolina in the national title game and superstar Caitlin Clark ended her college career.

    “There is no denying that this past season was incredible for so many reasons, and we could not have accomplished our achievements without all of you,” Bluder said in an open letter to fans. "After the season ended, I spent time with our student-athletes and coaches reviewing the season and preparing those moving on for what comes next.

    “With that also came personal contemplation about what this journey has meant to me, how to best champion this program, and what the future looks like for my family and me. After then taking some time away with my husband, David, it became clear to me that I am ready to step aside.”

    The 63-year-old Bluder retires as the all-time Big Ten coaching wins leader with a 528-254 record at Iowa, including 65-12 the past two years with Clark leading the way. She was 716-359 including her 10 seasons at Drake.

    “Simply no one better at building a team,” Clark wrote on X. “Thank you for believing in me more than anyone. Enjoy retirement, coach. Very much deserved.”

    Jensen, 55, was associate head coach under Bluder for 20 years and was with Bluder for a total of 24 at Iowa and eight at Drake. Jensen is a beloved figure in the Hawkeye State. She was one of the highest-scoring players ever in six-on-six basketball at Elk Horn-Kimballton and was an All-America player for Drake in Des Moines. She has spent her entire coaching career in the state.

    “There is no better person to lead this program than Jan Jensen and I am thrilled she will have the opportunity to build on the foundation established," Bluder said. "I’m committed to help her, and her staff, in whatever capacity they need moving forward.”

    Jensen, who played her senior season at Drake with Bluder as her coach, said she is elated to begin her first head coaching job.

    “I have been so blessed to have enjoyed an incredible ride with Lisa,” Jensen said. “That ride started when I was her player and continued for 33 years as I had the privilege to work alongside of her. I can’t thank Lisa enough for her mentorship, leadership, and most of all her friendship. I am so proud of all we accomplished and grateful for all the memories we created."

    The Hawkeyes won two shared Big Ten regular-season championships and five conference tournament titles and made 18 NCAA Tournament appearances under Bluder, who had only one losing season.

    The arrival of Clark, whose primary Iowa recruiter was Jensen, elevated the program and played a primary role in raising the profile of the women's game in the United States with her dynamic offensive game.

    Clark became the NCAA Division I career scoring leader for both men and women and set many other records as she dazzled fans with her long-distance 3-pointers and precision passing. She started every game from 2020-24, with Iowa going 109-30. She was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft by the Indiana Fever and will play her first regular-season game Tuesday at Connecticut.

    Bluder's 2023 team was Iowa's first to make a Final Four and championship game, and with Clark and a veteran supporting cast returning, the Hawkeyes repeated the feat this past season. They came up short both times, losing to LSU in 2023 and South Carolina last month.

    Kate Martin, who spent the past six seasons at Iowa and is now with the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA, said she was shocked to hear Bluder was retiring. Martin found out during a scheduled media availability with the Aces.

    “She’s coached at Iowa for as long as I’ve been alive," Martin said, "so she deserves a break and she deserves whatever she’s going to have in her future. And, you know, it’s family time, relaxation.”

    Martin added, laughing, “Lord knows we put her through enough so I’m really happy for her. She will be missed. She’s one of the greatest of all time.”

    Iowa's Caitlin Clark, right, hugs Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder after being selected first overall by the Indiana Fever during the first round of the WNBA draft on April 15 in New York. (Adam Hunger/AP Photo)

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