Since she got to Iowa, senior forward Monika Czinano has played behind some stars.
As a freshman, she backed up national player of the year Megan Gustafson. The next year program great Kathleen Doyle topped the statistics column for the Hawkeyes, with Czinano right behind her. In 2020-2021, freshman Caitlin Clark was the team’s top scorer, where she has remained for the last three years, with Czinano right behind her as she opted to play a fifth season.
Receiving second billing to teammates has never bothered the Minnesota native. In fact, as Iowa prepares to face South Carolina in the national semifinals tomorrow, Czinano would rather not talk about herself.
“I love the team (and I) hate making it an individual thing,” she said. “I love it when it’s Iowa vs. South Carolina, when it’s all of our team; I just like talking about that more. I understand, to a certain extent, how good I am and how my development has happened. But I just love my team, and I want them to get the credit they deserve.”
But no matter how many times Czinano is asked to talk about Clark, who has won three national player of the year awards this week, the truth is that without her, the Hawkeyes would not be back in the Final Four for the first time in 30 years.
Czinano’s greatness lies in her consistency. Over the last four seasons she has shot 67-68 percent from the field, as one of the top three scorers in Division I. She has averaged at least 28 minutes in a starting role, has scored around 20 points per game, and has grabbed 5-6 rebounds. She has been the bedrock that has allowed the rest of her teammates to shine.
Coach Lisa Bluder said Czinano is the most unassuming star a team could have.
“She’s lead the United States in field goal percentage for years, but Monika doesn’t even realize how good she is,” Bluder said. “That’s what’s so funny about her and Caitlin, is they’re so different. Caitlin understands she’s good, and she’s confident. Honestly, Monika just goes out and plays.”
Redshirt sophomore Kate Martin agrees.
“She definitely doesn’t know how good she is, and I think that’s what you love about her,” Martin said. “She’s a little naive when it comes to that. It’s hilarious.”
She characterized Czinano as not only a great player, but a great teammate, and someone who doesn’t entertain negative talk.
“She will always be the first to build you up and give you a high five if you make a mistake, and she’s just fun to play with,” Martin said. “She’s been leading the nation in field goal percentage, and she never even talks about it. She’s the most humble person, and she’s the sweetest person.”
Czinano said she knew the Hawkeyes were building something special since 2019, when they played in the Sweet 16. Then things went into high gear when Clark was added to the mix in 2020.
“I think the second Caitlin got to campus, she kind of had us all start to believe, which was something super special,” Czinano said.
In leading up to tomorrow’s showdown, Clark has been pitted against the other main player of the year candidate in Gamecock forward Aliyah Boston. Bluder isn’t buying it.
“People compare Caitlin to Aliyah, and to me that’s apples to oranges,” she said. “It makes no sense. They are completely different players. They (play) completely different positions. They’re both great at what they do, but what they do is different. So I don’t think you can compare the two of them.”
Czinano is the one who will likely have her hands full with Boston, who averages 13.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. But like her players, Bluder is focusing on a team approach to the matchup.
“To me it’s not Caitlin vs. Aliyah, it’s Iowa vs. South Carolina, and we have to remember that,” she said. “What we need to do to be successful is we have to make sure we box out. We have to make sure that other people are hitting three’s, and not just Caitlin.”
When all is said and done this weekend, Czinano said she hopes to have made a positive difference for her teammates, and the Hawkeye program.
“I just hope (I’m thought of as) somebody who lifted the team (to heights) they didn’t think they could reach before,” she said. “Somebody who played basketball with joy, carefree. I just really wear my heart on my sleeve when I play, and I think that’s why people love to see it. And just to my teammates: I hope they think of me as a great teammate.”
Martin said that though Czinano will likely be drafted into the WNBA next month, she knows her friend will find success on and off the court.
“I think her potential is through the roof, and what’s awesome about her is that anytime she sets a goal or she wants to achieve something, she’s going to do it,” Martin said. “Off the court she wants to be a doctor, and I know she’ll do that. I’m really proud of her.”
Iowa and South Carolina play tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN.