June 17, 2024

Caitlin Clark and Iowa find peace in the process

ON A COLD, snowy Monday night in January, Caitlin Clark walked into a dimly lit restaurant in Iowa City and looked around the room for her parents. They smiled from a back table and waved her over.

It was her 22nd birthday. Three teammates and the head Iowa Hawkeyes manager were with her, and soon everyone settled in and stories started to fly — senior year energy, still in college and nostalgic for it, too.

That meant, of course, tales of The Great Croatian Booze Cruise.

In summer 2023, as a reward for their Final Four season, the Iowa coaches arranged a boondoggle of an international preseason run through Italy and Croatia, grown-ass women, pockets thick with NIL money to burn. They saw places they’d never seen, spoke strange languages and walked narrow cobblestone streets.

“One of the best nights was when we got bottles of wine and just sat on the rooftop of the hotel,” Caitlin said.

On the last free day of the trip, they proposed a vitally important mission to head manager Will McIntire, who now sat at the birthday table next to me.

They needed a yacht.

Like a real one, the kind of boat where Pat Riley and Jay-Z might be drinking mojitos on a summer Sunday. So McIntire found himself with the hotel concierge looking at photographs of boats. He asked Caitlin about the price of one that looked perfect.

“Book it right now,” she said.

They climbed aboard to find a stocked bar and an eager crew. The captain motored them out to nearby caves off the coast of Dubrovnik where the players could snorkel and float on their backs and stare up at the towering sky. They held their breath and swam into caves. They looked out for one another underwater.Livid Caitlin Clark Chirps Ref After Coolest Shot Of Career Called Off

When stories of the Caitlin Clark Hawkeyes are told years from now, fans will remember logo 3s, blowout wins and the worldwide circus of attention, but players on the team will remember a glorious preseason yacht day on crystal blue waters, a time when they were young, strong and queens of all they beheld.

They’ll talk about the color and clarity of the sea. A color that doesn’t exist in Iowa. Or didn’t until Caitlin Clark came along.

The Booze Cruise lived up to its name. After the stress of a Final Four run and the sudden rise of Caitlin’s star, it was a chance to be a team and have nobody care and to care about nobody else. Many of their coaches didn’t even find out about the yacht until the team got home.

“It was just what we needed,” McIntire said at the birthday dinner table. It was the kind of night parents dream of having with their grown children. Often three conversations were going at once. Caitlin’s dad, Brent, was telling McIntire about the wild screams and curses that come from their basement when one of their two sons is playing Fortnite.

“You should hear her play Fortnite,” McIntire said, pointing to Caitlin.

“Is she good?” Brent asked.

“No,” he laughed.

Caitlin told a story about her freshman year roommate almost burning the dorm down trying to make mac and cheese without water. She and Kate Martin told one about both of them oversleeping the bus at an away game — they awoke to both their phones ringing and someone knocking on the door as they made eye contact and shouted “S—!” in unison.

There was one about Caitlin in full conspiracy-theory rage, too, convinced that Ohio State had falsified her COVID-19 test result to keep her out of a game.

“This is rigged!” she told her mom on the phone. “They’re trying to hold me out!”

Anne took over the narration.

“Call the AD!” she said, imitating her daughter.

“I did not say that!” Caitlin said.

There was the time Caitlin needed to pass a COVID-19 test for games in Mexico. She showed up in the practice gym,

throwing her mask on the ground while waving her phone and crowing, “I’m negative, bitches!” … until one of her teammates looked at the email and realized Caitlin had read it wrong, so she quickly grabbed her mask and bolted.

As the stories flew, Caitlin smiled, loving to hear her teammates, happy to be with them.

We raised glasses again and again, and her dad beamed. Her mom kept thanking her teammates for taking such good care of her. They toasted to Caitlin, to CC, to 22 and to Deuce-Deuce. The waitress brought over a framed collage she had made, along with a note thanking Caitlin for inspiring “girl power.”

Caitlin’s mom made a final toast.

“Happy birthday,” she said.

“Happy birthday, Caitlin,” Kate Martin said, turning to her left and asking her, “What was the best thing that happened in Year 21?”

 

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