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Our All-American girl

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America just can’t seem to get enough of Caitlin Clark and the University of Iowa women’s basketball team.

Last Saturday’s opening round game between the Hawkeyes and Holy Cross was the most-watched non-final tournament game in history, with 3.23 million viewers on ABC, despite the fact that it was a 91-65 Iowa blowout. Then the Hawkeyes smashed that record again Monday night in their win over West Virginia, watched by 4.9 million people. Only Final Four games have attracted more viewers, and of course the Iowa-LSU championship game last year set the all-time record with 9.9 million viewers.

It seems that Iowa almost didn’t get Clark to wear a Hawkeye uniform. The West Des Moines Dowling prep apparently had unofficially committed to Notre Dame, but Iowa coach Lisa Bluder never gave up courting her. Clark changed her mind and decided to play for her home state Hawkeyes.

It turned out to be a great decision for Clark, and for women’s basketball. She has energized the sport and brought it to the same level of interest as the men’s game. Every Hawkeye game was a sellout while setting new TV viewing records.

No doubt Caitlin would have been a great player at Notre Dame, but I don’t think she would have achieved the level of success or fame in South Bend that she has at Iowa City. She might have been lost in the football crowd at Notre Dame, which sucks up most of the athletic oxygen there. She was better able to stand out back home in Iowa.

The nation loves to make fun of and cheer for Iowa. We’re the down home folks, aw-shucks hicks who stand tall and do things right. That’s what “The Music Man” — Iowa composer Meredith Willson’s famous homage to his home state — told the world from Broadway to Hollywood.

(At least, that’s what Iowa used to stand for. I’m not so sure that’s the case nowadays as we try to shed our hayseed image.)

As our culture seemingly spun out of control, the nation was searching for an authentic down-home All-American hero and found her in Caitlin Clark. She’s never too busy to sign autographs for the kids and shake hands with fans of all ages who idolize her, always willing to credit her coaches and teammates for her success. And even though she can get pretty intense during the game — let’s call her Iowa Stubborn — she has a friendly smile for her fans and gracious words for her opponents afterwards.

All that was made possible by her staying home in Iowa. There are many other great basketball players across the nation, but some of them are playing at schools that don’t teach the character traits that Iowa Coach Bluder exudes with her players.

We don’t have to feel too bad about Notre Dame losing Clark. The Fighting Irish seem to be doing just fine this year. They’re one of the hottest teams in the country right now, and are in the Sweet 16 along with Iowa. In our office pool, I even picked Notre Dame to face the Hawkeyes in the championship game.

And I picked Iowa to win.

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