24 Hawkeyes to Watch 2018-19 | Hawkeye Fan Shop — A Black & Gold Store | Hawk Talk Monthly — October | Women’s Basketball Week | Coach Bluder Video Interview (Twitter) | Megan Gustafson Video Interview (Twitter) | Coaches Teleconference | VIDEO — Hannah Stewart
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — If you follow University of Iowa women’s basketball, you won’t be surprised that the Hawkeyes return a senior post player who is coming off season-highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals.
What might surprise you is that the player is Hannah Stewart.
Stewart is a 6-foot-2 center/power forward who has spent most of her career giving All-American Megan Gustafson a breather. While Gustafson and her national Player of the Year resume returns, so does Stewart, an equally valuable component to the team’s success.
This season, Stewart will assume the starting power forward role, joining the 6-foot-3 Gustafson in forming one of the most daunting low post duos in the land.
“I want to see how efficient I can be in the minutes I am on the court,” said Stewart, a native of Minot, North Dakota. “Efficiency is what I look at, but I don’t want to say it’s all about stats. My goal is to create the culture within our team of everybody loving everybody and being happy for every teammates’ success.”
Last season Iowa put together winning streaks of eight, seven, and seven games and finished 24-8 overall, 11-5 in the Big Ten Conference. Stewart played in all 32 games, averaging 7.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. She shot 49 percent from the field and 64 percent from the line. It was Stewart’s best season as a Hawkeye, but her production was often overlooked when considering Gustafson, a double-double machine, averaged 25.7 points and 12.8 rebounds per game while shooting 67 percent from the field.
“Sometimes people get caught up in how many points you score and that’s how much value you have to your team,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “That is important, but there are other things coaches see that the fans don’t see that are important to a team.”
One of those qualities is leadership. Stewart has been voted by her peers as a team captain for a second consecutive season.
“I want to be the best leader I can be and leave everything I have my senior year,” Stewart said.
Having so many people look up to a career-long backup is not unprecedented, but it is rare. Among other things, Stewart is admired because of the way she accepted her role for three seasons while averaging 2.3 minutes as a freshman, 9.8 as a sophomore, and 17.2 as a junior. It is also easy to be overcome by her genuine happiness when her teammates succeed, especially Gustafson.
“It is worth it when you get to sit on the bench and cheer on your teammates and know you helped them get that way,” Stewart said. “My freshman and sophomore years, in my head, I was taking credit for some of Megan’s success because I know I made her push herself in the weight room, or work on offense, and that’s why she is able to score so easily. When you put those little victories in your head, it really helps.”
The 2018-19 season appears to be Stewart’s opportunity to shine with more minutes on the court. Chase Coley graduated after starting all 32 games a year ago, opening a starting spot for Stewart.
“It will be a different and a new role for Hannah,” Bluder said. “I am so excited to see her have this opportunity in her senior year.”
When the Hawkeyes host Oral Roberts on Nov. 9 in the season opener, it will mark the first time in 79 collegiate games that Stewart will be in the starting lineup. That has required an attitude adjustment from when she was a go-to player at Bishop Ryan High School. Not only was Stewart named North Dakota Miss Basketball in 2015, but she was also named North Dakota Player of the Year in softball. Plus, she was an all-district and all-region volleyball player.
In other words, Stewart wasn’t used to sitting on the bench.
In high school, Stewart said her top priority was her performance; in college that switched quickly to nurturing relationships with teammates and coaches.
“I thought, OK, here I am, I’m Miss Basketball and I’m going to contribute,” Stewart said. “Then I kind of fell flat on my face and realized this is a different level. I have a lot of learning and getting better to do before I can do something to contribute to this team. It’s not easy at first, especially as a freshman and sophomore.”
A spiritual person, Stewart’s basketball predicament could have been lifted from the Book of Proverbs in the Holy Bible. Chapter 29:23-24 reads: “Angry people stir up conflict; hotheads cause much offense. Pride lays people low, but those of humble spirit gain honor.”
Stewart has been in the supporting cast, now she is ready for a leading role.
“You have to humble yourself and get a different perspective on things,” Stewart said. “It gives a different appreciation for being on the court and being able to play. You learn to love the little things like practice and being on the floor or being able to encourage your teammates.
“I had to mature fast — I don’t think anyone expects to not play right away. It was a learning process and I don’t think I would be the teammate or player I am now without it. It changed the way I looked at basketball in general.”
Since Stewart joined the program in 2015, the Hawkeyes have won 63 games (an average of 21 per season) and played in six postseason games (winning three). But the sport has taken her much farther than arenas in Big Ten Conference cities. Through basketball, or because she had the blessing from the Iowa staff, Stewart has seen the world, traveling to Italy, Poland, Africa, and Brazil.
Stewart’s most recent basketball excursion was to Sao Paulo, Brazil, as a member of USA Team in the FISU America Games from July 24-28. The USA Team, that included Gustafson, went 4-0 and won the gold medal.
Gold medals, points, rebounds, or wins don’t do justice in describing Stewart or her values.
“The basis of who I am is my faith,” Stewart said. “At first I found my identity in basketball and all these worldly things. Then I realized ‘Wow, I have nothing else to rely on, I need to rely on God.’ It has been a gift of God for me to have the experiences that I have. I would not have wanted it any other way.”