Iowa Head Coach Dave Dilanni gets water dumped on him in celebration after Iowa defeated Wisconsin during an NCAA college soccer game in the final of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Sunday, April 17, 2021, in State College, Pa. Iowa defeated Wisconsin 1-0 in the tournament final. (Noah Riffe/Centre Daily Times via AP)
When we look back on 2021 — as well as 2020 — we will remember one word: Pandemic.
But I like to think of myself as a glass half-full person, so let’s look at the positives in our little corner of the world — aka sports in Eastern Iowa.
As we enter halftime of 2021, it’s easy to see this has been an excellent year so far.
The Hawkeyes also won their 24th NCAA wrestling title, but the first since 2010. Spencer Lee won his third national crown, putting him in line to become the first Iowa wrestler to win four NCAA titles.
The Hawkeyes stand 13th in the Learfield IMG College Director’s Cup, a national measuring stick of athletic performance. I don’t remember Iowa ever being this high in those standings.
The Hawkeye soccer team is one of two feel-good stories so far in 2021. They started the season 0-6-1 and didn’t score a goal until their seventh match, a 2-1 loss to Rutgers.
But Iowa got hot when it mattered most, avenging two losses at the Big Ten “regional weekend,” then topping Penn State and Wisconsin in the “final four” to capture the conference tournament and earn an NCAA berth.
The Hawks then beat Campbell, 1-0, on its home field — its first NCAA tournament win — before falling to UCLA, 2-1.
Iowa still finished the season with a losing record — 7-9-1 — but went 5-2 in April
“That’s the most inspirational performance I’ve ever been a part of in my 18 years of being a head coach,” Iowa Coach Dave Dilanni said after the loss to UCLA. “Not just today, but the last three weeks. … being the underdog and on the road against every team we have played.
“It has been a blessing to coach them during this run.”
The other feel-good story started in Cedar Rapids and finished in Columbus, Ga.
The Mount Mercy University softball team also had a remarkable postseason run. The Mustangs were a respectable 29-13 in the regular season and went into the Heart of America tournament they hosted at Busse Field as the No. 2 seed.
But things got even better after that.
Mount Mercy went 4-1 at the conference tournament, sailing through the winners’ bracket and capturing the title with a win over Grand View, a team that beat the Mustangs, 11-4 and 7-4, to end the regular season.
At the NAIA regionals in Columbia, Mo., the Mustangs went 3-1, winning that title and earning a berth in the World Series. They won two games and, as one of the last six teams still alive, were eliminated by eventual champion Southern Oregon on May 31.
Mount Mercy, playing in its first national tournament since 2010 and its first World Series in program history, ended the season 38-17 and won nine of its 13 postseason games.
And that’s just a handful of the success stories we’ve enjoyed since the calendar turned to 2021.
Kirkwood made the national tournaments in women’s basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball and men’s golf. The Coe baseball and softball teams enjoyed very successful seasons and the Luther softball team earned a national berth.
We’ve also seen success on the high school level, from basketball and wrestling in the winter to track and field, tennis, golf and, last weekend, boys’ soccer and girls’ tennis titles from Cedar Rapids Xavier. The Saints begin the girls’ sate soccer tournament on Tuesday.
We can dwell on the start of the year, the continuing battle with COVID-19 and all that comes with that fight. Or we can look at the good things we have, the things we actually can cheer about.
I don’t know about you, but my half-full cup runneth over.
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