The Iowa caucuses are the first major events of this US Presidential election cycle and have been an important part of the American political process for decades. The caucus is a physical gathering where attendees vote, in private and public, with their hands on large sheets of paper that represent each candidate’s support. Despite being over 100 years old it has remained largely unchanged except for technological advancements like mobile voting booths.,
NEITHER DO THEY TEXT NOR DO THEY MEET FOR COFFEE. “Friends” is a nice way to put it, but “rivals” is a more realistic description. Caitlin Clark and Ashley Joens’ young harmony and focused attention are captured in an old snapshot. It was taken in the summer of 2017 in Chicago, as 11 Iowa adolescents advanced to the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League championships.
Clark and Joens are in the center of the picture, standing behind the bleachers. They were the team’s two top players. Dickson Jensen, the All Iowa Attack’s old grumpy man on the left, isn’t sure whether he’s meant to mention it, but Joens dislocated her shoulder in a game that week, rushed over to the sideline, and had Jens pop it back into place. She returned to the court and made a pair of free shots.
Clark was two years younger than the majority of the girls on the AAU squad for girls aged 17 and under, but she didn’t act it. She brought them back from a nine-point deficit with little over a minute left in the quarterfinals, shooting four 3-pointers with ease.
Jensen adds, “I’ve coached against some of the best players in the nation.” “When I look at that photo, all I can think of is a group of Iowa youngsters who have no chance of winning the game. How did we manage to pull this off? They’re simply regular youngsters who put in a lot of effort. Those two… they were fantastic. This was the start of their career, and it was at this point that they became well-known.”
When Caitlin Clark (front row, third from left) and Ashley Joens (back row, third from right) led All Iowa Attack to the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League final in 2017, they wore the same jersey. Courtesy Iowa as a whole is under attack.
Despite the fact that they had suitors from all across the nation, Clark and Joens chose to remain in Iowa. Joens, a 6-foot-1 guard/forward from Iowa City who grew up only five minutes from Carver-Hawkeye Arena, ended up at Iowa State two hours away in Ames; Clark, a 6-foot guard from West Des Moines whose elder brother Blake plays football at Iowa State, traveled two hours to Iowa.
Even Jensen couldn’t have foreseen what happened next: that Iowa would produce two of the finest women’s basketball players in a state with more hogs (23.8 million) than humans (3.155 million). Last season, Clark topped Division I in scoring with 26.6 points per game as a freshman, while Joens finished seventh as a junior (24.2).
Look no farther than December 9, 2020, to get a sense of how dynamic Clark and Joens are, as well as what the traditional December matchup between Iowa and Iowa State signifies. That night at Iowa City, Joens scored 35 points and 13 rebounds. Her Cyclones led by 17 points going into the fourth quarter, but Clark almost single-handedly rallied her side, scoring 14 of her 34 points and sinking a 25-footer with 22 seconds remaining. In the final seconds, Iowa State inbounded the ball to Joens, but she was unable to make a shot and collapsed to the floor.
When Iowa travels 130 miles to Iowa State on Wednesday, the former All Iowa Attack teammates will once again be competitors (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU). For the last time, two enormous stars in one Midwestern state will share a collegiate court. Clark and Joens have distinct personalities, problems, and experiences to tell. However, how they arrived at this point is distinctly Iowan.
In a terrific rookie season that culminated in the Sweet 16 against UConn, Clark led the country in scoring. She’s already had two triple-doubles this season. Getty Images/Carmen Mandato
IF ANYONE COULD HAVE DIRECTED Caitlin Clark to Ames, it would have been big brother Blake, according to logic. The Cyclones junior, who is a backup quarterback and plays on special teams, is equally determined (he led Des Moines Dowling Catholic High School to a state title his senior year) and obviously close to his sister.
It didn’t start off that way, however. Blake is two years older than her, and they both grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of males. Caitlin followed Blake everywhere he went, much to Blake’s chagrin. She was often following him and his companions around.
A young neighbor had some airsoft guns loaded with plastic pellets, and you can see where this is heading…
“She became our target,” Blake explains, “which is extremely harsh when you think about it.” “It’d be the middle of July, and she’d be dressed in sweatpants, a heavy winter coat, and a stocking hat, while we peppered her with airsoft pellets.”
Blake says that everyone wore safety glasses and that no one was wounded, and they’re all laughing now. The most important message here is that Caitlin was holding her own against guys two years her senior, and finally outperformed them.
“I was the MVP of a basketball league, and a lot of parents were upset because it was given to a female,” she explains. “I was a fierce competitor. My parents were at a loss as to what to do with me. Even though I was thrown in with the lads, I was still one of the best.”
Clark is so competitive that in Spanish 3 at Dowling, the class had to stop learning exercises short on occasion because Clark was becoming a touch too competitive. By junior high, she had caught the attention of college coaches, and as the arguably largest recruit in Iowa women’s basketball history, she drew a crowd.
In rival gyms, she’d be welcomed with “overrated” cries and “ball hog” yells. Clark was unconcerned about any of it. She’d take the 3s that no one else dared to shoot, then stare down the booers once the shots were made.
Clark would grin, almost euphoric, as others slogged into the gym for summer exercises because she was wearing a Dowling outfit and getting to play basketball.
Brent, her father, was a baseball and basketball player at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, and he ripped up some grass in the front yard to install a basketball hoop for his kids. Brent and Caitlin’s mother, Anne Nizzi-Clark, were not fans of Iowa or Iowa State. They brought their kids to Drake University in Des Moines to watch basketball games.
Dowling coach Kristin Meyer, who happened to arrive at the same time as Caitlin Clark, soon recognized her as a rare comet on the court. She once inquired about Clark’s ability from an assistant coach at a top-10 school, which Meyer refused to name.
Meyer recalls the conversation: “He said, ‘If we could take her this year on our college team, we would.’”
“It was before she had even entered a high school course.”
Clark went on to set state records for points in a game (60) and 3-pointers made in a game (three) (13). She averaged 32.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists as a junior.
Clark’s presence in Iowa City sparked a flurry of excitement inside and outside of coach Lisa Bluder’s team. “When you see someone who is pretty dang brilliant and motivated,” Bluder adds, “it gets everyone moving in the same way.” Imagn/Iowa City Press-Citizen/Joseph Cress
Clark had been targeted by both Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly and Iowa coach Lisa Bluder since she was in junior high. Clark’s parents “sort of kept her insulated” from most of the recruitment business, according to Bluder, so it was difficult to tell whether they were wasting their time. Dowling’s open gym was at 6:30 a.m., so Hawkeyes assistant Jan Jensen left Iowa City just after 4 a.m. to visit Clark. “It was undoubtedly a labor of love,” Bluder explains. “You had a feeling she was exceptional.”
Because Clark didn’t want to go far from home, Iowa, Iowa State, and Notre Dame emerged as late options. Blake never attempted to persuade his sister to attend Iowa State; he preferred that she go wherever she felt most at ease. Fennelly has been doing this long enough that, although Iowa State was in the mix, he had a gut feeling it would be Iowa or Notre Dame.
Clark waited until the week before signing day to phone Bluder, who was with her husband, David, at the Orchard Green Restaurant in Iowa City. Bluder stepped outdoors, despite the November frost, to hear the news. “I was overjoyed,” Bluder exclaims.
She had no clue what Clark would accomplish in a COVID-19 season last year as a rookie. She was a first-team All-American who split the WBCA Freshman of the Year title with Paige Bueckers of UConn and led the Hawkeyes to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. According to Bluder, having a player like Clark changes expectations.
Clark is so skilled and fluid that Fennelly deems her the finest in-state recruit he’s ever seen in his 27 years in the business. As a freshman in high school, she could shoot 3-pointers from NBA range and had the ballhandling abilities of a seasoned point guard. Bluder often discovers that Clark knows what Bluder is about to say before she says it, because to her extensive understanding of the game.
“I have great ambitions,” says Clark, a business student who averages 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game after a triple-double against Michigan State on Sunday. “People looked at me and thought, ‘Is this kid serious?’ when I stated I wanted to go to Iowa and lead the team to the Final Four. That isn’t something I just said. That is something I sincerely believe. It’s a narrow line to tread between confident and arrogant. That is something I believe great players possess. That was something my folks taught me. Whatever you do, you must be sure of yourself.”
Joens (shown with his mother, Lisa, and father, Brian) began his career as a dishwasher at Joensy’s, a restaurant that, when all is said and done, may produce a starting five for the Big Ten. Imagn/Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register
THE JOENS GIRLS HAD HANDED A BASKETBALL BY THE TIME THEY WERE OLD ENOUGH TO SIT UP. Brian Joens would toss a ball to his girls, who would finally toss it back to him. He’d have his kids smacking their hands on the ball instead of patty-cake. Brian claims that if a youngster has early associations with the basketball while they are young, the game becomes intrinsically simpler as they get older. Ashley began dribbling a basketball on the basement concrete floor when she was around two years old.
While playing basketball at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Brian and Lisa Joens met. They have five daughters and three Division I basketball players, or four if Kelsey, a junior at Iowa City High School who committed to Iowa State in August, is included. Courtney was a member of the Illinois basketball team, while Aubrey is a sophomore guard at Iowa State. Last year, Ashley earned the Cheryl Miller Award, which is presented to the best small forward in the nation, but there are rumors that Bailey, the youngest of the three, may end up being the greatest of them all. She is now in fourth grade.
In their former home in Solon, Iowa, 20 minutes outside Iowa City, Courtney, Ashley, and Aubrey would shoot layups on a 5- or 6-foot hoop in the basement, eventually working on drills with their father in a gym inside a Methodist church. Brian would bring his four eldest girls, who, at the age of 5, could shoot a 10-foot basket. Ashley’s ability to pick up a ball and get right into whatever practice they were working on the day before always amazed him.
She had a reputation for being a diligent worker. As a basketball player, it’s how she wants to be remembered the most. Ashley began washing dishes at Joensy’s, the family’s restaurant, when she was eight years old, a particularly difficult work during Solon’s “Beef Days,” an annual summer event that drew a large crowd. When the family relocated the diner to Iowa City, Ashley was in junior high. Her professions changed as she grew older, and she now waiters and assists as a backup cook on occasion. “I’m pretty excellent with the grill and the fryer,” Joens adds during an hour-long interview, his single effort at self-promotion. “It’s strange for me to have to cook at my apartment. It doesn’t have the same flavor.” She also raved about the pork tenderloin, which is a speciality of Joensy’s.
Joens recalls being so engrossed in school, basketball, and the restaurant as a child that the only time she went downtown, near Iowa’s campus, was on Sundays when the family went to the library. That didn’t stop her from wishing to play for the gold and black.
In last year’s Iowa-Iowa State game, Joens outscored Clark 35-34, but Clark sank the game-winning shot and the Hawkeyes won by two. Imagn/Iowa City Press-Citizen/Joseph Cress
Joens isn’t a big fan of talking about Iowa. This is how her father recounts the recruitment process: Joens was invited to Iowa’s camp the summer following her freshman season at Iowa City High, a year in which she received all-state accolades and was named conference MVP. She attended the camp, received no response from Iowa’s coaches, and was not granted a scholarship despite multiple offers from other Big Ten colleges.
Fennelly questioned Joens whether she was 100 % committed to her hometown school around the same time, according to Brian Joens.
“I told her there’s a zero percent chance she’ll play at Iowa because they’ve ignored her,” Brian Joens said.
Over the following several years, Fennelly made frequent visits to Iowa City and ate a lot of pork tenderloin sandwiches. Joens went on to win Miss Basketball and Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year in her senior year, scoring 30.7 points and 11.4 rebounds while leading the Iowa City Little Hawks to a 25-1 record.
The next season, she started all 35 games for the Cyclones and was named to the Big 12 All-Freshman team, averaging 11.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
Bluder lavishes praise on Joens, calling her a “versatile scorer” and “one of the top rebounders” with a “incredible” ability to get to the free throw line.
“When she gets there, she makes you pay,” adds Bluder, who won her 800th game on Sunday. She claims that Joens has surpassed her expectations.
She also admits that she did not provide a scholarship to the five-star recruit.
“Recruitment isn’t a black-and-white situation,” she said. “Recruiting entails a lot of different things.”
Fennelly considers Joens to be one of the most influential players in school history, owing to her role in reviving what he refers to as “The Iowa State Way of Doing Things.”
Fennelly adds, “I joke with our football coach that she might be on special teams.” “She has the potential to be a tight end. She’s a tough-minded young lady who doesn’t make excuses for herself.”
Joens, who is studying education, admits that she is not your normal college student. She isn’t on social media and has just recently learned how to cite a tweet. She often needs to look up the acronyms and jargon her pals use in text messages. A Cricut, a computer-controlled cutting machine for creating, is her favorite tool. She’s presently utilizing it to create T-shirts that she’ll give as Christmas gifts.
“People learn dances by watching TikToks,” she explains. “I like watching instructor TikToks as well as craft TikToks. Pinterest is my favorite app since it offers so many wonderful ideas. I’m somewhere about 40 years old.”
Joens, who is averaging 20.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists this season, says she doesn’t care for the spotlight and would rather be left alone while playing her favorite sport. Respect, on the other hand, is unquestionably crucial. If you ask her who the greatest player in her family is, she would tell you without hesitation.
It might be the last time two of Iowa’s best players share an NCAA court on Wednesday. Coach Bill Fennelly of the Cyclones says, “Anyone who claims it’s simply another game is lying.” Courtesy Communications for Iowa State Athletics
The ALL IOWA ATTACK gym is located just across the street from Iowa State’s practice facility in Ames. Attack’s building, curriculum, and steely mindset were established by Dickson Jensen. Clubs that ask stars to play for them, he argues, end up watching those players control the club. He claims that America’s kids still yearn for norms and discipline.
Jensen’s teams are practically positionless when it comes to basketball. Nobody practices with her back to the hoop, and everyone learns to shoot threes and dribble down the floor. He claims that their adaptability will come in helpful once they start college.
The next summer, alongside Clark and Ashley’s sister Aubrey, All Iowa Attack won the Nike EYBL championship. Clark struggled offensively in the championship game, but he still managed to command a triple-team in the waning seconds of a deadlocked game. As a result, she played the role of a decoy, and future Iowa teammate Kylie Feuerbach made the game-winning 3-pointer. Clark didn’t seem to mind that the ball wasn’t in her hands, according to Jensen. She was ecstatic to have won.
Clark and Ashley Joens joined up with USA Basketball to capture a gold medal at the FIBA U-19 World Cup in 2019. The combination of Joens’ hardness and “the incredible things Caitlin Clark can accomplish,” according to Jensen, has always made them a formidable team.
“I mean, she’s just so resilient,” he says. “Ashley has a tendency to be a bit more,” he continues. “She doesn’t display any signs of emotion. Caitlin isn’t afraid to share her feelings. On her shirt sleeve, you can tell what she’s thinking. It was a terrific group of youngsters who got along swimmingly. They worked well together as a team.”
Joens, according to Clark, has aided Iowa State “It has risen to become a top-15 program and has truly set the bar. She’s a savage fighter.” Despite Joens’ efforts, Iowa State has lost five consecutive games versus the Hawkeyes. In Iowa State’s 75-69 defeat in 2019, she scored 26 points and 12 rebounds.
Last year, the week’s ferocity reached a breaking point in Iowa City. In a quarrel about where he was seated in the arena, Brian Joens was expelled from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Brian Joens said in a tweet that he sat in a nonassigned seat for social distance and was requested to leave. He wrote, “200 fans in a 15500 seat gym and I sat in the incorrect seat.” He didn’t witness his daughter almost single-handedly leading the Cyclones to victory.
Joens was sat “quite near” to the Hawkeye family section, according to an Iowa spokeswoman, and was requested to go back into the Iowa State supporter section, but refused.
Caitlin Clark and Ashley Joens, on the other hand, are not bitter rivals. They aren’t great friends, according to Joens “‘Hey, how are you doing?’ I’ll say if I see her. But we don’t exchange texts or anything like that.”
Clark, who has a sizable social media following, will undoubtedly have a sizable IRL following in Ames. The Iowa State football squad accidentally saw the Iowa women’s march to the Sweet 16 last season. Blake Clark would stream his sister’s games on a giant screen in the football locker room or watch them at home with his housemates.
And his teammates would be blown away. Blake Clark said he’s excited for Wednesday’s game, where he’ll be rooting for his sister.
Despite the fact that Iowa is rated No. 12 and Iowa State is No. 15, Joens sought to minimize the significance of Wednesday’s game on a late November day, despite the fact that she is a senior and may not return next year for a fifth COVID-extended season.
She felt more at ease discussing the jerseys she designed for an Iowa State football game or the 2017 Ford Focus she purchased with her own money earned from tips at the restaurant.
Anyone who claims it’s simply another game is lying, according to Fennelly. “I mean, [Ashley’s] a competitive child,” says the narrator. She grew up across the street from Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and we’re playing a team that many people consider to have the greatest player to ever come out of our state, but the other team’s name isn’t mentioned. Some people mention it, but not in the same discussion.
“I don’t believe she tries any harder in this game than she does in others since it isn’t her style. However, there is no doubt in my opinion that there is an additional pulse.”
Of course, Joens is excited about this match. She’s been waiting for a victory since she was a child, growing up with the University of Iowa as a background. She’s wanted it since she slept on the Carver-Hawkeye floor last year.
She ultimately gives in towards the conclusion of that late-November talk.
She explains, “It sort of drives me.” “I want to show them how incorrect they are. If you didn’t want me here, I wouldn’t have gone there; I clearly like it here and have a fantastic squad, coaches, and fan base to support us. But it’s simply a way of demonstrating to them that, well, your loss.”
Joens comes to a halt. It’s not about that, she argues; it’s about her team. Anyone who has seen Joens and Clark knows that’s not the case. It has a deeper meaning.