Monica (Huelman) Zaruba was Bill Fennelly’s first signed recruit at Iowa State, and helped rebuild the program from 1996-2000. She passed away over the weekend at the age of 40. Photo courtesy Iowa State Athletics Communications.
AMES — Bill Fennelly managed to compose himself, but the deep sadness he feels framed each word he weaved together to form a heartfelt tribute.
Iowa State’s longtime women’s basketball coach is still trying to process the fact that his first-ever signed recruit and true program changer — Monica (Huelman) Zaruba — passed away over the weekend at the age of 40.
And he’s not close to truly coming to terms with the loss.
Head coach Bill Fennelly opens his Monday press conference talking about the passing of Monica Huelman Zaruba pic.twitter.com/mY2MTFlkQJ
— Cyclone Basketball (@CycloneWBB) December 11, 2017
“This is a really hard day for all of us who’ve been here for a while — what happened, and what we found out yesterday about Monica,” Fennelly said. “Those things aren’t supposed to happen. You’re not supposed to lose your players as a coach before you go.”
Zaruba, a Vinton native, had recently been hospitalized, according to an article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
“It’s just a really bad day,” Fennelly said.
Zaruba made a monumental impact on Fennelly’s program.
Her shot that ignited a comeback 64-58 Sweet 16 triumph in 1999 over top-ranked UConn will always be fondly remembered for good reason.
“(It) changed a game that changed our program,” Fennelly said.
She changed the program in many meaningful ways. Fennelly said she was a tremendous teammate, student and person. She was passionate about horticulture and earned her degree in the field in 2000.
“It’s just numbing,” Fennelly said. “So, we’re lucky that she was a part of our life and always will be. I really want to thank everyone that’s e-mailed and called and texted about ‘Mo’ and we appreciate all your concerns and prayers.”
Zaruba scored 513 points in her ISU career, which spanned 1996-2000. She also totaled 436 rebounds and 98 assists while shooting 50.2 percent from the field.
“She was never the star of the team but she was the star of our program, I guess, would be a better way to put it,” Fennelly said. “The way she interacted with people — our fans loved her. She had a very easy-going demeanor about her. One of her senior projects was she landscaped my house. So she’s been a part of us for a long time.”
Zaruba is survived by her husband, Terry, and most recently resided in Cedar Rapids, where she worked for Country Landscapes.
“She was a great teammate and her teammates are really struggling right now with all this,” Fennelly said. “I don’t really have any more details on anything, but we’ll certainly share that with you when we know.”