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Laurel friends surprised as Iowa Hawkeyes ball girls, meet Caitlin Clark

Laurel Iowa Hawkeyes ball girls
Posted at 2:27 PM, Mar 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-19 16:27:30-04

LAUREL — Lauren Duey and good friend Ruby Bekkedahl raise plenty of animals as neighbors in the Laurel area.

“She has, I don’t know how many chickens,” Ruby said while planted in front of Lauren's chicken coop.

“I’ve got, like, 18, 20 (chickens),” Lauren confirmed.

And she has steers and a heifer, and pigs on the way. But the girls, both with their share of 4-H animals at home, admit that even while caring for animals they’re likely thinking about sports.

“Yeah, basically,” Ruby said.

Odds are, if they're together you can find them playing driveway hoops. And by good fortune, the pair has enjoyed not one — but two — sports trips of a lifetime in the past two years.

They're superfans of Iowa women’s basketball — only the most popular college team on the planet right now, including mega-star Caitlin Clark. It's easy to see the girls have collected enough memorabilia to open a team store.

"I have a (Caitlin Clark) signed jersey, which is really cool, and then these shoes and that basketball," Lauren explained to MTN Sports, pointing to a coffee table overloaded with Hawkeyes gear, much of it autographed by the team.
The connection stems from Lauren’s mom, Jennell, who attended Iowa’s medical school.

“In fact, that’s where I met my husband and used to go to several of the women’s games myself,” Jennell said.

So, the plan was hatched a year ago when Jennell and Ruby’s mom, Wendy, treated the girls to a Hawkeyes experience in person. Thanks to a connection of Jennell’s, what came next for the girls was a complete surprise.

“We went to a practice, and we got to meet all the players,” Lauren recalled.

Ruby was specifically impressed with Iowa's women's facility.

“And seeing how big their gym was, because when I think my school’s gym is big, I’m like, uh, our gym is tiny,” she said with wide eyes.

Wendy was impacted by how each detail is precisely outlined down to the minute. 

“It was budgeted into their practice time. Five minutes … Montana girls. And they were signing as fast as they could. There was no lingering," she said. "It was like, OK, time to go to the weight room.”

Which, Wendy says, was fascinating in itself when they were unexpectedly invited in.

“(They) opened, like, this trap door on the side of the wall. It was this door you could hardly see and there were these stairs down to their private facility,” she said while gesturing to paint a picture.

The story only gets better. After last year’s unforgettable experience, just a couple weeks ago the mom-and-daughter combos returned for Iowa's home court Big Ten showdown against Ohio State, where Lauren and Ruby were invited to be courtside ball girls.

“We got to see all the players and we could hear them talking when they were in the game,” Lauren said.

“The coolest part was probably this one moment," Ruby continued. "… Caitlin, she gets the ball, an offensive rebound. She rips around the corner and the whistle blows and she steps out of bounds. And the whistle blows and (Clark) whips around and says, ‘I didn’t step out! It wasn’t me! It wasn’t me!’ And the ref was like, ‘Calm down, it was before that.’ So, I was like, OK … that was cool.”

During timeouts Ruby and Lauren were mopping the key dry.

As if that weren't enough, earlier that game day the girls stumbled onto Clark, who had recently become the sport’s all-time leading scorer.

“We were like, ‘Caitlin, we’re the ball girls,’" Lauren said. "And she came over and was like, ‘Do you want me to sign your jersey?’”

Neither hesitated.
“And we were like, yeah,” Ruby said with excitement.

Jennell says the four often gather to watch Iowa women's games streaming or live on TV, estimating that thanks to on-demand features they've missed maybe two in two years. They'll likely rally again this weekend as top-seeded Iowa opens the NCAA Tournament Saturday at 1 p.m. on ABC against Thursday’s winner between Tennessee Martin and Holy Cross.

And while the experiences may be forever remembered, Wendy and Jennell agree these life lessons are equally as valuable.

“It’s just not only how good Caitlin Clark is, but how this team works together, and they take care of each other through good times and bad times," Jennell said. "And that’s what you want your girls seeing.”

Maybe someday Ruby and Lauren will play for the Hawkeyes — they say that's the dream. In the meantime, they're free to wonder about it while handling chores and feeding their non-Hawkeye animals here at home.