AMES — Few things in sports are harder to accomplish than replacing a legendary player.
The Iowa State women’s basketball team will be forced to do that as it seeks to compenstate for the loss of 2014 honorable mention All-American Hallie Christofferson to graduation.
It may be impossible for Coach Bill Fennelly to truly replace Christofferson, who averaged 18.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per games last season, but a committe could be assembled to help fill the void.
“We have no one who is going to play 35 minutes, or shoot it as good as Hallie Christofferson,” Fennelly said. “Hopefully, as a group, we can find some people that can do that.”
Senior guard Brynn Williamson could be capable of filling the hole left by Christofferson, but she won’t be the only one the Cyclones go to in big situations.
“I think we have five different options, and maybe even more when we sub,” Williamson said. “It really comes down to this year, I feel like, whoever has the ball in their hands at any given moment, can make something great happen.”
Forward Claire Ricketts and center Bryanna Fernstrom — both freshmen — will play key roles in helping ISU adjust to life without Christofferson.
“I told them, ‘there aren’t two freshmen players in the country in a better situation than Bryanna Fernstrom and Claire Ricketts,” Fennelly said. “For a couple reasons, number one, they’re playing with great guards, which all big guys like good guards. Number two, someone’s got to play, so, I think they’re in a great position there.”
Fernstrom, a 6-foot-5-inch post player from Center City, Minn, was rated as a three-star prospect by ESPN.
“I just want to do my part, for now,” Fernstrom said. “I want to make an impact, but I just want to do my part, and try not to do too much.”
The 6-foot-3-inch Ricketts was also a three-star recruit according to ESPN, despite not playing basketball until her freshman year of high school.
Ricketts feels that her athleticism will play a major role in her getting minutes this season for the Cyclones.
“I haven’t been playing as long, so I won’t be as skill sound as every other player out there who has been training since they were younger,” Ricketts said. “My thing this year is to work hard, go for every loose ball, push myself, run up and down the floor.”
Fennelly is still unsure how the post rotation will shake out this season.
“If we were going to play a game tonight, I really do not know who would be the starting five,” Fennelly said. “I really don’t.”
Fernstrom started all three games the Cyclones played in Italy, and sophomore Seanna Johnson started all 31 games for the Cyclones last season.
Sophomore Jordan Jensen, junior Madison Baier and senior Fallon Ellis will all compete for minutes, as well.
Outside of Johnson, Ellis and Baier are the only other posts that have seen meaningful minutes as Cyclones. Ellis averaged 11.6 minutes per game last season and played in every game, while Baier played 10.8 minutes per game in eight games before suffering a season-ending injury.
“You can’t make excuses for it, it is what it is,” Fennelly said. “We’re young, we’re inexperience there, but they’re all on scholarship, and they need to play.”
Freshmen guards to make impact early on
The 2014 recruiting class was one of Iowa State’s best since Bill Fennelly took over the program 20 years ago.
Fennelly expects to see guards Emily Durr and Nakiah Bell on the floor this season alongside Fernstrom and Ricketts.
“You’ll see four of those kids out there quite a bit,” Fennelly said. “We’re counting on them a lot, I think that’s one of the reasons they came here.”
Bell, also a three-star recruit according to ESPN, will enter the season as one of Iowa State’s primary ball-handlers.
"Nakiah can play the one or the two,” Fennelly said. “She is undersized, but she is very, very skilled and very smart.”
Bell’s development will allow for senior point guard Nikki Moody to play off the ball more than in past seasons, Moody has also been important in helping Bell adjust to the college game.
“I just watch what she does,” Bell said. “She has been the point guard since her freshman year, and she’s been doing really good at it, so I’m watching and learning from her.”
Durr, a 6-foot tall guard from Utica, N.Y., was labeled as a four-star recruit by ESPN, and was one of the top-100 recruits in the country.
According to Fennelly, Durr will be able to play both wing spots for the Cyclones this winter.
** Moody says that she has tried to take more of a leadership role as her senior season gets underway:
“I’ve been able to sit back and let the other seniors lead in their way," she said. "Now that I’m a senior, I have to really take that role, and step up, and be that spokesperson.”
** Last season Fennelly was not shy about the fact that he wanted guard Jadda Buckley to take more shots. Entering her sophomore season, Buckley says that hasn’t changed:
“He was on me last season, he is on me this season too," Buckley said. "Just to hunt my shot is a word he has been using. I’m just looking to do what he tells me to do, do what I can do to help the team, in whatever way that is.”
** Fennelly was asked during his press conference about how his rotation might shape up. His answer may have led to his best quote of the day:
“We’ll have more depth than we’ve had in a long time," he said. "As far as the number of players that we’ll rotate, it’s hard to say right now. But, we’ll regularly practice with 10, maybe 11. And then it’s just a matter of, you know, life’s about competition, and part of competition is about how you do in practice, some kids are better in practice, some kids are better in games, some kids handle success better than others. I’ve always been a big believer that the kids decide who plays, not the coach. If you want to play, show us you want to play. Show us you can be productive. The term we use with our team every day is ‘find a way to impact winning every day.’”
** The Cyclones will open the season Tuesday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. when William Penn comes to Hilton Coliseum for an exhibition game.