Who is next to step up for Hawkeyes' women's program?

Caitlin Clark and a strong class of seniors won't be back for the Hawkeyes next season? So who needs to step up to continue the success these players began?
Iowa v Nebraska
Iowa v Nebraska / Steven Branscombe/GettyImages

After back-to-back appearances in the national championship, head coach Lisa Bluder has the opportunity to continue something special with the Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball program.

Of course, a great deal of the success the Hawkeyes have enjoyed was thanks in large part to the legendary Caitlin Clark. For every record and award credited to her name, her profound leadership and play led the Hawkeyes to heights previously unseen.

But the Hawkeyes will move on into the future without Clark and a few other key players. Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Molly Davis will not be with Iowa next year, leaving a significant void in the roster of star talent and quality leadership.

The burden cannot reasonably fall on one player. After all, Bluder will need to recruit the proper talent, whether out of high school or the Transfer Portal, to recover from the losses on the roster sheet.

However, the duties can be split and there are two prime candidates already on the roster who can help significantly if they take the next step.

In the leadership role, Bluder will likely look to Sydney Affolter. The 5-foot-11 guard will enter her senior season next year possessing by far the most playing experience. Affolter was a key contributor for the Hawkeyes in the postseason as she was called upon to step up with Davis battling a knee injury.

While Affolter played well, averaging 55% from the floor and 41% from three with 8.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game, asking her to be more than just the voice of the team might be too much. Especially since someone else can take on that role.

Hannah Stuelke was a difference-maker for the Hawkeyes beneath the glass. She averaged 14.0 points and 6.6 rebounds per game with 62.7% shooting.

Stuekle isn't a daunting presence against teams with towering fives, but those are uncommon in the sport to begin with. She plays with as much finesse as she does grit and has a keen awareness that will take her far at Iowa.

She enters her junior season next year after showing on a handful of occasions that she could be relied upon to pick up the slack when Clark was off or commanding too much attention. She will have to prove early next year that she can handle the extra attention herself. As of right now, she's the most talented player on Iowa's roster.

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