Clark 'thankful' as she bids farewell to Iowa State, jersey will be retired

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Kaitlin Clark got one last chance to say goodbye to Iowa State fans on Wednesday, and of course, there was a large crowd waiting.

Clark, who became college basketball's all-time leading scorer this season and is on track to become the consensus national player of the year, was honored with her teammates in a ceremony on Iowa's home court to commemorate the Hawkeyes' second straight national runner-up finish. Finishing in the NCAA Tournament.

“I would say you all inspired me as much as I inspired you,” Clark said in front of nearly 8,000 fans at Iowa State's Carver-Hawkeye Stadium. “You allowed me to live my dream every day, and I'm so grateful for that. It was a very special place, and this place will always be home to me.”

Clark, who is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Indiana Fever in Monday's WNBA draft, finished her career with 3,951 points and 1,144 assists, an All-American in every season of her career that began in front of sparse crowds during her freshman year. The year attendance was limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clark received a standing ovation when Iowa athletic director Beth Goetz announced that Clark's No. 22 jersey would be retired, the third number to be retired in program history.

“I think they like you,” Goetz told Clark after the announcement.

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“It's so incredible, and I'm so grateful for it,” Clark said. “There have been a lot of good 22-year-old players who have come before me and played in this program, whether it's Kathleen Doyle or Sam Logic. That number carries a lot of weight, way beyond me. I'm really grateful, and it will also be a special day when that happens.” “

Iowa State coach Lisa Bluder called the Hokies' back-to-back runs to the national championship game “special.”

“This year was special too, because no one thought we could do it,” she said. “No one thought we could repeat what we did last year, except these women here.”

The event's attendance was no surprise given the Hawkeyes' ability to draw large crowds this season.

The Hawkeyes sold out every home game, drawing 238,620 fans during the regular season, and that total does not include the 55,646 fans who attended October's “Crossover at Kinnick” outdoor exhibition game at Iowa State's Kinnick Stadium, which established women's basketball. Record attendance at one match.

Iowa State also sold out its two NCAA Tournament games. The weekend's attendance of 28,764 was the most at any site in the first weekend of the women's tournament.

“Please come back next year,” Bluder said. “Please fill Carver Hook Square next year.”

Fans lined up outside the arena more than two hours before the event began, racing to find seats when the doors opened.

Angie Leigh of Atlantic, Iowa, brought her 10-year-old daughter, Lana, who was celebrating her birthday, to the event.

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The Leyhs attended one game this season, attending Iowa State's NCAA Tournament opener against Holy Cross, but when Angie saw that the event would be held on her daughter's birthday, they decided to make the three-hour trip back.

“We would have dropped everything to make sure she could be here,” Leah said as her daughter held up a sign with her birthday wish list, asking for a chance to meet Clark, or at least get an autograph or a photo. “It's all amazing.”

Clark walked around the field signing autographs after the event, as she has done after games throughout her career. During the event, she spoke about how she and her two brothers loved athletes while growing up.

“I wanted to be like them,” she said. “These are the people who allow me to dream and be in moments like this.”

Leah knew what the Hawkeyes' recent success meant to her daughter, who also said of Clark: “I want to be just like you.”

“It's a dream come true, and it makes her dream even bigger,” Leigh said.

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