By Jonathan Hoffman
EVANSTON, Illinois – Erin and Joe Corrado, Iowa fans living in the Chicagoland area, were standing at the corner of Ashland Ave. and Isabella St., waiting in the 36-degree January night while bundled in Iowa jackets, scarves and knits. They watched the over 1,000-foot line of basketball fans stretch past Welsh-Ryan Arena and wrap around the next block move excitedly to the arena entrance as game time approached.
“I bought season tickets specifically for this game,” Joe Corrado said.
These Iowa fans and thousands of others swarmed a sold-out Welsh-Ryan Arena last night, cheering and firing up the Iowa players as they went on to overpower the Northwestern Wildcats 110-74.
Javy Perez, Social Media Specialist for the Chicago Iowa Club and a former Herky the Hawkeye mascot from 2012-15, is not surprised to see Iowa fans take over an opponent’s arena.
“Iowa always travels well, especially in the Chicagoland area,” Perez said. “Northwestern has some passionate fans, but Iowa fans travel in numbers and they’re pretty wild.”
Joe McKeown, Northwestern women’s basketball coach, spoke before the game about the atmosphere he expected for the first sold-out women’s basketball game in Welsh-Ryan Arena history.
“I think, more importantly for our players, just to be in that atmosphere and to know that people care about our sport, that’s what, to me, is the big picture,” McKeown said.
Wild, energetic and persistent, Hawkeye fans were a constant force in this one. Player introductions were the first indicator that Iowa fans were ready to rock the arena. Despite Northwestern employing flashing lights, music, props and smoke machines for its player introductions, Iowa’s players, especially Caitlin Clark, generated more cheers and admiration from the crowd.
Northwestern and its rowdy student section was able to hang in with Iowa and its supporters for the first five minutes of the first quarter, but once the Hawkeyes broke a 12-12 tie with a 12-3 run to end the quarter, the away crowd was in full control.
When Clark and Co. made three-pointer after three-pointer, striking the hoop like a lightning bolt, the Hawkeye-dominated crowd followed up with thunderous cheers.
Thriving off the crowd’s energy, Clark put on an offensive clinic yet again, scoring 35 points and dishing out 10 assists. The conductor of this team, Clark helped orchestrate an offense that scored over 100 points for the sixth time this regular season.
With the Hawkeyes up 97-63, Clark checked out of the game to loud applause and cheers from the crowd.
Molly Cantrell-Kraig, President of the Chicago Iowa Club, acknowledged Clark’s impact on and off the court, citing her charitable work in Iowa City and how she brings a positive light to the University of Iowa as a whole.
“Caitlin Clark, above and beyond her skill as an athlete, is just a really great person,” Cantrell-Kraig said. “She does a lot of stuff for the [University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital] in Iowa City, and she just has really been an amazing ambassador for the University of Iowa in general.”
After the game, Clark talked about the atmosphere in Welsh-Ryan, telling reporters that she had been looking forward to this game.
“This was one that was definitely circled on my calendar just because I know the amount of Iowa fans in the Chicago area,” Clark said.
Clark made sure to give a nod to the dedicated fans who waited in the near freezing temperatures outside before the game.
“I think it just shows what people are willing to give to get to be able to watch our team play and I know how excited people are,” Clark said. “A lot of people are spending a lot of time, money and resources to have these opportunities that hopefully will give them memories for the rest of their lives.”