Hawkeye fans from across the region rubbed shoulders with many of the University of Iowa athletic program's heavy hitters during the 2013 Webster County I-Club banquet here Thursday.
Men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery, wrestling coach Tom Brands and football assistant Brian Ferentz were headliners for the annual event, which attracted approximately 400 people to the Best Western Starlite Village. Gary Barta again served as master of ceremonies.
''I think (the I-Club festivities) are an outstanding way to meet our supporters in an up close and personal environment,'' said Ferentz, the eldest son of head football coach Kirk Ferentz who is making his debut on the circuit. ''This is great. It's the least we can do as coaches to give back to our Hawkeye community. I'm really enjoying the stories and well-wishes from our fans.''
Tom Brands and Ryan Utley at the I-Club event.
Fran McCaffery and Connor Mullen at the I-Club event.
Ferentz, a soon-to-be second-year offensive line coach at Iowa, worked his way through the crowd last night, shaking hands and trading conversations throughout the social hour. McCaffery, Brands and Dolphin did the same.
''This six-week period of time is a special one to us, because it really connects us to Hawkeyes across our state. After all, they are in many ways the backbone of our programs,'' Brands said. ''I get to know great people at every stop.''
Brands and Ferentz garnered plenty of attention, but McCaffery - thanks in large part to Iowa's resurgence on the basketball court - was the main attraction. In three seasons, McCaffery has transformed a 10-win program into an NIT finalist that tied a school record with 25 victories this past winter.
''To the credit of (our fanbase), the passion and enthusiasm has been here since day one,'' McCaffery said. ''Has it intensified (recently)? Yes. But that's just the natural progression of becoming more and more successful. I just appreciate the loyalty our (followers) have shown throughout these three seasons.
''Now the goal is to keep the level of excitement high and take that next step forward. We've done what we said we were going to do so far. What will be the next challenge? Where do we go from here? We're about to find out.''
McCaffery called the I-Club organization ''phenomenal.''
''I'm just really looking forward to the future, and hopefully, we can give these fans what they're looking for,'' McCaffery said, referring to Iowa's seven-year NCAA Tournament drought. ''They deserve it for being patient as we build - they've been with us every step of the way.''
The Hawkeyes will return all but one player - senior Eric May - to its lineup this November, along with the additions of Jared Uthoff, Peter Jok and Kyle Meyer.
Women's basketball assistant Shannon Gage and UI's executive director of development in intercollegiate athletics, Matt Henderson, were also in attendance.
Webster County I-Club board members include Jim Bice, Gwen Cornwell, Tim Holmstrom, Tim O'Tool, Al Redenius, Nick Salmon, Dean Underberg, Dick Williams, Bill Woehl, Judy Rozek, Cynde Turner, Diane Blomker and Nick Moore.