By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The background on University of Iowa senior Kathleen Doyle’s laptop is an image taken March 10, 2019, moments after Doyle and the Hawkeyes knocked off Maryland, 90-76, to win a Big Ten Conference Tournament championship in women’s basketball.
You have to scan the image closely to find Doyle. She is about as far in the background as you can get without falling off the makeshift stage set up for the postgame championship celebration. At the center of the image is center extraordinaire Megan Gustafson, receiving the championship trophy from head coach Lisa Bluder. In the left corner of the photograph is Doyle, wearing a big smile, lifting her championship hat toward the ceiling to catch celebratory confetti that was raining down on the winners.
“It reminds you what you’re capable of and what you have to look forward to if you keep working,” Doyle said. “That was a moment of pure bliss.”
Doyle’s days in the background of anything associated with Iowa’s basketball team have passed. Gustafson, the consensus All-American and National Player of the Year, has graduated. So have starters Tania Davis and Hannah Stewart. That leaves Doyle, who was named first-team All-Big Ten by coaches and second team by media, as a team leader, joining fellow seniors Makenzie Meyer and Amanda Ollinger.
“The outside is going to worry about Megan, Hannah, and Tania being gone more than we’re going to worry about that,” said Doyle, a native of LaGrange Park, Illinois. “We can’t worry about what we lost, we have to worry about what we can control and what we have in our locker room right now. We’re a united group, our team chemistry is great. It will be different, but it’s exciting to do something different. Change is always hard and I’m sure there will be road bumps, but we’re going to embrace it.”
Last season, when Iowa made a run to the Elite Eight, Doyle led the Hawkeyes with 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals per game. She also averaged 12 points and three rebounds while shooting 31 percent from 3-point range and 74 percent from the line. Doyle netted double figure points 20 times in 29 games, scoring a season-high 22 against Iowa State and Michigan. She handed out five-or-more assists 21 times.
That combination of sharing the ball and being able to create her own scoring opportunities fits the Iowa basketball philosophy. Those are two ways Doyle leads the Hawkeyes, another is her rah-rah, rally the troops personality.
“There is no arguing that Kathleen is our emotional leader,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “She brings enthusiasm, joy, and passion for playing hard all the time and that’s contagious. When you have someone on your team that plays that hard and with that much emotion, it is fun to watch and it’s fun to be part of that.”
In three seasons, Doyle has been involved in 73 Hawkeye victories. One of her career highlights occurred when she was wearing red, white, and blue, not the typical black and gold. From Aug. 6-10, Doyle was a member of Team USA that went 4-1 and won a silver medal at the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru. Doyle averaged 20.6 minutes and 6.0 points; she shared the team lead with eight steals.
“It was an amazing experience playing against international teams,” Doyle said. “It is kind of amazing that a bunch of college kids could come together in that short amount of time and do what we did.”
Bluder appreciates what Doyle accomplished on an international stage. She coached Team USA to silver in 2015 in Toronto, Canada.
“To compete at that level with intense practices and tryouts is hard mentally and physically,” Bluder said. “Kathleen played an integral part of them getting a silver medal; to know she was a big part of them winning a silver medal is pretty amazing.”
From the Pan Am Games, Doyle joined the Hawkeyes on their three-game tour of Spain from Aug. 7-18. Doyle missed the first game against the Madrid All-Stars, a 74-69 loss. When she arrived, Iowa finished with two wins — 69-61 over Valencia and 76-57 over the Mataro All-Stars. In two games, Doyle averaged 10.5 points, five rebounds, and four assists.
She now prepares for her final season as a collegian. Practices began Sept. 26 and the Hawkeyes play an exhibition against Winona State on Nov. 3.
“Our goal is to always win a Big Ten championship, it doesn’t matter what other people have coming back,” Doyle said. “We have a lot of people who haven’t gotten a chance to play significant minutes and we don’t know what they will do with those minutes; they could become greats. I’m excited for these younger kids to get a chance to show people what they are made of. They are tough and that is a huge part of playing in the Big Ten.”
Doyle is embracing every opportunity of her final go-round as a Hawkeye, but that doesn’t make it less sentimental.
“It is sad,” she said. “I wish I could stay here and play forever.”