Women’s basketball: Kylie Feuerbach reflects on Iowa’s run to NCAA title game

Sycamore standout enjoyed run to Final Four with Iowa, now looking ahead to next season

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Kylie Feuerbach (4) goes to the hoop against Penn State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament on Friday, March 8, 2024 at the Target Center in Minneapolis. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)

The 2023 season was quite a ride for Sycamore native Kylie Feuerbach with the Iowa women’s basketball team – and she was just a spectator.

In 2024, she took a more active role in the Hawkeyes’ third straight Big Ten Tournament title and second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament National Championship game.

After missing all of the 2022-23 season while recovering from a torn ACL in her right knee, Feuerbach was back in action for the Hawkeyes this winter and enjoyed a successful season as one of the key members of Iowa’s rotation.

Feuerbach averaged 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds per game while playing in all 39 games, averaging 13.9 minutes per game. She finished with 101 points, 51 rebounds, 33 assists, 27 steals and six blocked shots, and hit career highs with 13 points and four 3-pointers in a road win over Minnesota on Feb. 28. She also nabbed a career-high four steals in a home win over then-No. 2 Ohio State on March 3.

“This year was just as special, for sure, and it was nice to be able to get on the court and be playing,” Feuerbach said. “Getting the experience last year, going into it this year we knew what to expect – there’s just a lot going on all the time during the tournament – and I think that helped us a lot.

“I would honestly say that I was a little more composed this year because I knew I was going to be playing. My nerves were a little more controlled. Last year, as basically just a spectator, you get more wrapped up into the game and take things more seriously because you’re really able to get into it and see everything. I really think it was cool to see both sides of it the last two years.”

After a school-record 31-win season in 2022-23 where Iowa advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 1992-93, many were unsure if Caitlin Clark and Co. could repeat that feat after losing two starters.

But even sitting in the national spotlight all season, Iowa matched that and then some, finishing 34-5, placing second in the Big Ten for the second straight season, winning the conference tournament title for the third year in a row and advancing to a second consecutive Final Four – just the third trip there in school history.

“The coaches and our staff, and the great leaders we had on our team, did a great job of making sure we were composed and focused and locked in,” Feuerbach said. “We really do take each game as it comes to us, and that really helped during the tournament. We’re not looking ahead and wondering about the what-ifs; we’re just seeing what’s in front of us and knocking down that part, then moving on. That really helps when there’s a lot of attention on us, which there was all year.”

Feuerbach spent the season as the second sub in the rotation behind good friend Sydney Affolter and was first off the bench during the postseason run after Affolter was inserted into the starting lineup following an injury to Molly Davis in the regular-season finale.

After earning No. 2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament each of the past two years, the Hawkeyes were awarded a No. 1 seed as the No. 2 overall team behind undefeated South Carolina – just the third No. 1 seed in program history.

“It was so cool to see our name come up as a No. 1 seed, just so awesome to celebrate that as a team,” Feuerbach said. “Then seeing the path we had to go down, we knew all those teams were great teams who were playing super good, and we knew whoever we ended up playing, it was obviously going to be a challenge.

Iowa defeated Holy Cross and West Virginia in the first two rounds at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, then won tournament rematches with Colorado and LSU – avenging last year’s title-game loss – at the Albany II Regional to earn a trip to Cleveland for the Final Four.

A 71-69 win over UConn set the stage for another rematch, this time against a South Carolina team that Iowa beat in the Final Four last year; the Gamecocks got their revenge with an 87-75 victory. While it stung for a few days, the second straight National Runner-Up finish was still a momentous accomplishment to be celebrated and enjoyed.

“There were a lot of teams there that we’d already played either this year or last year – Kansas State, Colorado, LSU, eventually South Carolina – so there were definitely a few flashbacks in our bracket,” Feuerbach said. “But we didn’t let that part faze us.”

The moments that stand out most to Feuerbach aren’t even the wins on the court. Instead, it’s the time spent together as a close-knit team and the memories made within the family atmosphere coach Lisa Bluder and her coaching staff have built in the Iowa program.

“The most memorable thing was our coffee runs. We’d do that every day, just find a local coffee shop in the area where the tournament games were and go together,” Feuerbach said. “It was a group of four or five girls, and we’d explore and branch out and walk there and enjoy our time together. Those coffee runs will definitely be a core memory.”

Now, the focus shifts to next season. The loss of Clark – major college basketball’s all-time leading scorer – and Kate Martin to the WNBA, three-year starter Gabby Marshall to grad school, and Davis to graduation leaves some huge holes to fill.

“That’s definitely one of the saddest parts every year, losing those teammates who are moving on; every year, it’s almost like a worse heartbreak, honestly,” Feuerbach said. “There will be some rebuilding, but the Iowa program does a great job of building up younger players, and having those past leaders displaying what it takes and showing us what we have to do to be successful. It’s going to be a big dent, obviously, but at the same time, we have some core players coming back, and that’s exciting.”

Iowa has a strong five-person recruiting class coming in, and last week added transfer Lucy Olsen from Villanova – Division I’s third-leading scorer last year behind Clark and USC’s JuJu Watkins – to help reload a little bit.

Feuerbach said the team took Olsen to dinner during her campus visit and she fit in immediately, and has already had some contact with a few of the incoming players for next season. The fifth-year senior-to-be believes all six of the new faces will fit in flawlessly for the Hawkeyes.

“Just huge props to the coaching staff, because they do a great job of recruiting girls who are competitive and want to win but who are also good people and good teammates,” Feuerbach said. “This is a very special program and environment and culture, and they do such a great job of bringing in players every year who just fit into it so well. I can’t be any more thankful to be part of this.”

While the national buzz surrounding the Hawkeyes will fade with the loss of Clark, Feuerbach and her teammates still are optimistic heading into 2024-25.

Personally, heading into a full offseason healthy will be a big boost – “Finally going into summer cleared and fully healthy and not being stuck on the sidelines still recovering is a great feeling,” Feuerbach said – and she’s ready to work hard to step into a new role involving increased playing time and senior leadership.

“Being a more vocal leader is obviously something I have to kind of step into with Syd and Hannah [Stuelke], and there are a lot of key things to work on in my game,” Feuerbach said. “I’m going to lock in and focus on whatever I need to do to help the teams in whatever ways they need, and I’m very excited and ready for whatever that role will be.”

The one that seems to fit her well is that of defensive stopper. Marshall filled that role the past two seasons, and it’s one that the long, athletic 6-footer could excel in.

“Defense is definitely something I take pride in, and I want to really lock in with that and keep getting better,” she said. “I love playing defense and guarding good players, and I want to be able to guard whoever my team needs me to guard and do a good job with it.”

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