Enthusiasm over Hawkeye athletics filled the air at the annual Webster County I-Club Spring Banquet here Thursday night.
Nearly 400 loyal supporters donning their black and gold attire attended the event inside the Best Western Starlite Village Motel.
Head football coach Kirk Ferentz highlighted the festivities, along with women's head basketball coach Lisa Bluder, men's assistant basketball coach Andrew Francis, assistant wrestling coach Kurt Backes and Executive Director of Development Matt Henderson.
"Events like this are just a tremendous opportunity to travel around the state and say hello," said Ferentz, who directed the Hawkeyes to seven wins and an Insight Bowl appearance this past fall. "We have the best fans in the country, and it's always important to say thanks for the support."
Entering his 14th season at the helm, Ferentz continues to set the bar high for his program. Under Ferentz, Iowa has gained bowl eligibility in each of the past 11 years.
"We'll have a younger team with a bit less experience this year, but we really made some jumps at the end of last season," Ferentz said. "Through more hard work, we feel our guys will keep showing growth and improvement."
Ferentz also took time to recognize former Humboldt prep Nick Nielsen, who will be a redshirt senior wide receiver this upcoming season.
"Nick has an opportunity now to step in and contribute," said Ferentz. "He should be right in the mix along with several others."
After tying for second in the Big Ten Conference and punching their fifth consecutive ticket to the NCAA Tournament, Bluder also has lofty goals for her women's basketball team.
"We tied for second in the Big Ten Conference - and we all know how competitive the Big Ten Conference is," said Bluder, who has compiled a 230-144 mark through 12 seasons at Iowa. "I'm always cautiously optimistic, but I feel we have a great group coming back, led by three returning starters."
Francis, who was the first hire on head coach Fran McCaffery's staff at Iowa, represented the men's basketball team. Last season, the Hawkeyes posted 18 victories, qualified for the National Invitational Tournament and earned their first postseason triumph since 2003.
"(Attending the Webster County I-Club Banquet) is fun for me, because this is my first time in Fort Dodge, and I enjoy getting out and meeting new people," said Francis, who previously assisted McCaffery at Siena from 2007-2010. "We feel really good about the guys we have coming back for next year (Iowa returns three starters and nearly 72 percent of its scoring production to the lineup)."
Backes, a former two-time All-American and two-time Big 12 Conference wrestling champion at Iowa State (2003-2007), recently completed his second season as volunteer assistant for the perennial power Hawkeye wrestling program, which finished third at the NCAA Div. I National Championships this past March.
"We expect first place and the top of the podium every year," said Backes, who is married to Prairie Valley graduate Amanda (Martin) Backes. "We always say that, but we have to do it."
Webster County I-Club board members include Jim Bice, Diane Blomker, Gwen Cornwell, Tim Holmstrom, Nick Moore, Tim O'Tool, Al Redenius, Judy Rozek, Nick Salmon, Cynde Turner, Dean Underberg, Dick Whiting, Dick Williams and Bill Woehl.
Contact Josh Meyer at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org