April 3, 2023 

Inside Iowa’s locker room after its 2023 national championship loss

Curtains close on the Hawkeyes' season and the careers of Czinano, Warnock

DALLAS — As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Gabbie Marshall paused at the half-court logo to high-five teammates Addison O’Grady and Kate Martin.

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The trio walked back to the Iowa bench together and, as confetti rained down in honor of LSU’s 102-85 win, the Hawkeyes huddled up before shaking Kim Mulkey’s hand and gathering again at the other side of the court. The team eventually headed off to the locker room, national runners-up instead of champions.

Dinner and cheesecake waited outside the locker room for those with teary eyes and red faces or sitting in the corner of their phone alike. It was evident tears were shed amongst teammates and coaches before the doors opened to the media. While many players spoke to reporters alone, O’Grady and freshman Hannah Stuelke answered questions together before eventually being pulled in different directions.

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Before the locker room opened to the media, head coach Lisa Bluder talked about how the loss hurts now and will continue to hurt, but the team made history.

“It hurts now but when we look back at it we’re gonna be like we played in a national championship game,” O’Grady recalled in the locker room. “We made it to the Final Four. We did all these things, a season that no one thought we could.”

McKenna Warnock added that what brought the team to tears is when Bluder talked about not wanting to have any other team in her locker room. “She doesn’t want to be their coach, she wants to be our coach even though we lost because she loves us so much and she loves us as people and we’re going to do such great things outside of basketball and she truly believed that,” Warnock said.

The closeness of the team makes it both easier and harder to process the loss, O’Grady noted. While seeing the heartbreak is hard, the team will always have the love between them and the knowledge of the hard work it took to get to the championship game.

After trailing 63-42 less than two minutes into the third quarter, the Hawkeyes were able to pull themselves within single digits only two minutes and 13 seconds later, propelled by baskets from Clark, Czinano, Warnock and Marshall. Bluder also noted she was proud of the fight in her team that trailed by 17 at halftime.

“They could’ve laid down and they didn’t,” she said. “They just kept fighting and I’m just so proud of them for that.”

Lisa Bluder talks to <a rel=
Lisa Bluder talks to Caitlin Clark and the bench during the championship game on April 2, 2023. Photo Credit Domenic Allegra.

Late in the third quarter, Iowa pulled within seven and Bluder thought her team would be able to secure the victory at that point.

“I felt good right then. I really did. I felt like, okay, we got this,” she said. “Then of course we have the foul, the technical foul, that stuff, and it just gets out of hand at that point. Yeah, I felt really good when we got it to seven. I thought we were going to do it. I really did. My team thought they were going to do it.”

With 1:04 left in the third quarter, Czinano picked up her fourth foul and Clark picked up her fourth as well just seconds later. In a post-game statement from referee Lisa Jones said she called a technical foul because Clark “picked up the ball and failed to immediately pass the ball to the nearest official after the whistle was blown.” This was the team’s second delay of game offense after receiving a warning with 7:28 remaining in the third quarter after the ball was batted away after a made basket, which caused a delay.

The Hawkeyes couldn’t pull within single digits in the last 8:18 of the game, but every conversation in timeouts in the fourth quarter was score, then get a stop, then score again and the importance staying together. “They couldn’t break us,” Martin said. “They were going on rolls. They were hitting shots. But we just knew that we needed to move on to the next play. And that was our mentality.”

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The end of the 2022 season marks the end of the careers of Monika Czinano who has played five seasons for Iowa and McKenna Warnock, who chose not to use her extra year of eligibility to focus on applying to dental school.

“I’m telling you, this is brutal. It’s really tough to walk out of that locker room today and to not be able to coach Monika and McKenna ever again,” Bluder said after the game. She later told the media outside the locker room, “I want to coach them again. I wish I could coach them again tomorrow.”

In the locker room, the sentiments were the same, with O’Grady noting how hard it was to see the seniors go out with a national championship game loss. After the game, Czinano and Warnock thanked their teammates for being the best and said they enjoyed every second of their time on the team, “we all kind of just cried,” Marshall said.

Marshall was glad that the graduating seniors were able to get national attention and more people saw what great players and people they are — people like Warnock, who is sad both because her basketball career is over and also because she’ll be seeing less of her teammates.

“They’re honestly my sisters and my best friends and that’s the hardest part of it. They’re seriously the best people in the world,” Warnock said.

She later said, “There was just so much love. It was insane. I think that honestly any of us would have done anything for each other and to be able to be a part of that circle and how tight it was. It’s just insane. I mean, I’ve never had an experience like this and it’s something that is really hard to come by and I’m so glad to be a part of it.”

Both Czinano and Warnock finished their Iowa careers on the bench fouling out in the fourth quarter. Czinano was called for an offensive foul with 6:25 left in the game, her fifth and she headed to the bench. Clark made sure to hug Czinano before heading back to game action. Czinano then walked down the bench, high-fived her teammates, grabbed her water bottle and towel and sat down. Associate head coach Jan Jensen then came over and told her she is one of the best that’s ever been and that she was proud of her before patting the top of her head.

Warnock fouled out with 1:33 remaining in the fourth quarter telling her teammates, “I love you guys, don’t stop believing, I will always be there for you,” before joining Czinano on the bench. The pair were holding back tears on the bench, saving them instead for a more private moment.

Martin is sad to see Czinano leave the program because she’s not only a great teammate, but also her best friend.

“She’s just seriously one of the best people I’ve ever met and she’s going to do great things in her future and we’ll be best friends for life,” Martin said. “So I know this isn’t the end for us, but I will miss her out on the basketball court and in the locker room.”

After the game ended, Clark told Czinano, “I’m nothing without you” and believes she’s made her a better basketball player and person.

“I’m just really lucky that I was able to play with Mon and share a lot of really fun moments with her,” Clark said. “I think we’re one of the best post-guard duos to play the game, and I’m just really lucky and grateful to have had these years together.”

Monika Czinano celebrates by pointing and running down the court against LSU in the 2023 national championship game on April 2, 2023.
Monika Czinano celebrates by pointing and running down the court against LSU in the 2023 national championship game on April 2, 2023. Photo Credit: Domenic Allegra.

While Czinano loves the game of basketball, loving the team aspect is the reason she started playing and continued to do so.

“[I’m] extremely grateful for the opportunity to come here,” Czinano said. “This was one of my only [Division I] offers that really took a chance on me and I’m just so proud of everybody. Never did I think coming to this school that I would be playing in the national championship game and being the center for it. It’s just been such a surreal experience. Really, I’m honestly going to need even more time to reflect on it, but I’m just so grateful and I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”

Czinano hopes she leaves behind a legacy of showing it is possible to have fun and be disciplined. “It takes hard work to get here but if you’re not having fun with it, then it’s not really gonna go anywhere,” she said.

Clark noted that the graduating seniors set an example of what it takes to play at a high level for their teammates and gave their “heart and soul” to the team.

“I’m really grateful that that’s what they did because we have to bring people along and bring people up to get back to this point,” Clark said. “This is our goal every single year. We’re not just going to be satisfied with making it here one time, but at the same time, I’m not worried about what’s next right now. It’s been a really long, really fun season with this group. I just need to take some time to reflect and appreciate all that’s come with it.”

Similarly, not every player in the locker room was ready to talk about next season, but freshman Hannah Stuelke who had two points and one rebound in 11 minutes, believes that playing in the national championship game gives her an edge next season. “I know what I need to do to get better. I’m gonna do everything that I can to be back,” she said.

Marshall echoed her sentiments noting that the team is setting a new standard of success and will work to get to the championship game again next year. She expects the team will have people step up and grow into their own person and player, because Czinano and Warnock are leaving large shoes to fill.

Martin noted the team knows how much hard work is required to get to the championship game.

“We’re just gonna go in with that same mentality next season,” she said. “Why not? And we’ll see, you never really know.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

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