By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The winter sports season has treated Hawkeye fans to three intriguing storylines that just keep getting better.
The Iowa men’s and women’s basketball teams are well on their way to making the NCAA Tournament, and are mostly just playing for a higher seed at this stage, while the top-ranked Iowa wrestling team appears to have its best chance of winning a national title in a decade.
And behind each of those three storylines is a student-athlete who has ascended to greatness.
Men’s basketball has Luka Garza, women’s basketball has Kathleen Doyle and wrestling has Spencer Lee all leading the way in their respective sport.
Each is hardly a solo act, but Garza, Doyle and Lee have distinguished themselves as all-time great Hawkeyes, and they’re far from finished with adding to their legacies, with Doyle the only senior.
The 6-foot-11 Garza, who is from Washington D.C., leads the Big Ten in scoring with a 23.7 per-game average and has scored at least 20 points in 11 consecutive games, the longest streak for a Hawkeye since Fred Brown (13) in 1971, and the most by any Big Ten player over the last 20 years. Garza’s 617 points are most by an Iowa junior and 10th most in a single-season.
Doyle, a 5-8 guard, leads the Big Ten in assists (165) and assists per game (6.3), ranking third and ninth in the NCAA, respectively. The LeGrange Park, Ill., native also ranks in the nation's top 25 in in three additional categories, including 12th in free throws made (129), 14th in free throw attempts (164), and 16th in total points (480).
Doyle is just as impressive in the classroom where she was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District Women's Basketball First Team on Thursday.
Doyle double majors in journalism & mass communications and Spanish with a 3.83 grade-point average. She is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten recipient, and was a 2018-19 Distinguished Scholar Athlete.
Lee is top-ranked at 125 pounds, is 14-0 this season and has outscored his opponents 171-10. The Pennsylvania native is also the two-time defending national champion at 125 pounds and is half way to becoming Iowa’s first four-time national champion at any weight.
Garza would seem to be the heavy favorite at this stage to win Big Ten Player of the Year, while Doyle is also a serious candidate for that honor on the women’s side.
And if there is a more dominant college wrestler than Lee out there somewhere, can someone please point him out.
It’s hard to think of a more impressive Hawkeye triumvirate who has represented the three main winter sports teams at the same time.
Garza is having one of the greatest individual seasons in program history, while Doyle, who made first-team All-Big Ten last season, will leave Iowa as one of the greatest women's players of all time.
Lee also has a chance to leave Iowa as the most accomplished wrestler in program history, and that speaks volumes. He still has a ways to go, but Lee seems so vastly superior to his competition right now.
His impact goes beyond just wrestling, though, as Iowa coach Tom Brands pointed out to the media earlier this week.
Brands was asked how Lee has progressed since being pinned against Oklahoma State last season in a dual in which Iowa lost.
“There’s a lot of progress with maturity on the mat, those types of things,” Brands said. “You’ve see him handle certain situations better, whereas in the past maybe he hadn’t. So there is definite progress there. He’s progressed a lot. In a lot of different ways, too.
“In ways that you might not see as a fan because you don’t see him on the mat very long a lot of times. But you do see it in the practice room. And you see it in his life, too. This guy has got a different mind, this Spencer Lee guy. He’s very focused and selfish the right way, but also a very good coaching mind, a very good mentorship mind.”
Garza has become such a prolific scorer this season, including scoring a career-high 44 points against Michigan, to where he was asked on Wednesday if he knew who currently holds the Big Ten single-game scoring record.
Garza wasn’t aware that former Purdue star Rick Mount set the record by scoring 61 points against Iowa in 1970, and did so without the benefit of having the 3-point shot.
In fact, Garza hadn’t even heard of Rick Mount before his name came up during Wednesday’s press conference.
“That’s very impressive,” Garza said.
Garza was then asked if he could see himself scoring 61 points in a game.
“I don’t know,” Garza said. “I think I go in and attack every game the same way, and you read different situations different ways, and I think when I get into a groove, I think I can put up a lot of points.
“So I don’t know what that number is. But when you get into a zone, I think there’s no one who can truly stop you. So I wouldn’t put a limit on myself.”
The fact that Garza was even asked that question speaks to how dominant he has been this season. He has put a depleted Iowa team on his broad shoulders and helped pave the way to unexpected success.
Doyle has done the same for the Iowa women’s team, which had to replace three key seniors from last season’s team that made the NCAA Elite Eight, including center Megan Gustafson, arguably the greatest player in program history.
It was thought that Iowa might have to do some rebuilding this season, but Doyle wasn’t having any of that discussion.
She and fellow senior guard Makenize Meyer have been spectacular together on the court as players and as leaders.
Garza also showed his leadership skills when he insisted during a late timeout against Minnesota this past Sunday that Iowa was going to find a way to prevail, and that's exactly what happened as Iowa outscored Minnesota 11-0 to close the game and prevailed 58-55 in Minneapolis.
"He said, 'we are winning this game,"' Fran McCaffery said of Garza. "He not only knew it, he verbalized it. There was never any panic."
Stars rarely do panic, and Garza has certainly elevated himself to star status this winter. He is in a special group, along with Doyle and Lee.
And together, they have helped to make this a winter sports season to cherish.