Most people thought Madi Baier’s basketball career was over when she suffered a knee injury in practice before Iowa State’s Thanksgiving trip to Cancun in November.
She knows that a lot of people were counting her out after suffering her third injury in four years at Iowa State. That might bother some people, specifically some collegiate athletes, but not Madi Baier.
She’s tougher than that.
“A lot of people thought I was done because that was kind of the rumor in the paper,” Baier said. “I knew I’d be back.”
Her return couldn’t come at a better time as Baier bolsters an Iowa State frontline that took a serious hit when sophomore center Bryanna Fernstrom left the program a week and a half ago.
That same frontline will be given their toughest task yet on the basketball floor when the No. 4 Baylor Bears roll into Hilton Coliseum on Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. tip. You might think that would intimidate Baier but after what she’s gone through, nothing is stopping her.
Even before the season she already had a long list of injuries that had held the 6-foot-4-inch Tama, Iowa native out for large portions of her career. First, she had a foot injury that required surgery her senior year of high school.
During Baier’s freshman season, her ankles became the problem and bothered her all year. Her sophomore year brought a torn ACL and LCL in her knee.
She made it through junior year healthy but now it’s senior year and she’s right back on the mend.
“I don’t know that we’ve had a player here in a long time that is more loved than Madi,” said Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly. “She’s been hurt since the day she got here. She’s never gotten into any kind of flow. We knew she wouldn’t be an All-Big 12 player when we recruited her. Everybody knew that but she’s a great teammate. You can tell in practice just seeing her be able to be in practice, and be in the games, she’s one of those kids that maybe doesn’t have the impact game night but when you look over a four year career the impact she’s made is pretty dramatic.”
So now with one of the best teams in the sport coming to town this weekend, the Cyclones have their emotional leader. Bill Fennelly called her the “heart and soul.”
Sometimes that can be just coach speak but these Cyclones really mean it.
“It means a lot. She’s a great person off the court as well as on the court,” said sophomore guard Emily Durr. “She’s just so positive and it’s just nice to see her out there again, especially after so many knee injuries. She perceivers and she’s back out there.”
Baier officially made her return Wednesday night in Stillwater by giving the Cyclones five minutes and a rebound off the bench. The Cyclones lost the game in overtime but there was just something slightly different.
They had more energy than they’d had the past few games. They seemed to have an extra spark. Maybe Coach Fennelly lit a fire under them, or they were just feeling it on this particular day.
Maybe it had something to do with having their “heart and soul” back?
“Losing is not a good thing and there is no such thing as a moral victory at this level,” Fennelly said. “As a coach, as a parent, anything, you tell your team, your kids to do the best you can. We did the best we could, it just wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, it wasn’t a lot of things. We just played a tough team in a good environment.”
Iowa State’s reward for coming up short in Stillwater is to return home to face one of the best teams in the sport year in and year out. Last season’s battle in Ames was one for the ages.
It was senior day. Bill Fennelly was going for his 600th career win. The Cyclones beat the No. 3 Bears that day on the back of a huge performance from Nikki Moody.
It was a day to remember. Saturday could be one of those kinds of days too.
“Baylor is Baylor,” Fennelly said. “They’re always very good. They’re fourth in the country for a reason. I think they might be better. Alexis Jones is a transfer from Duke whose playing really well. They have some great depth in the post along with what they already had in Nina Davis, Niya Johnson, so they’re a team that’s Final Four worthy. Our fans are going to see another great team come in here Saturday afternoon.”