Ever since basketball tournaments were canceled and statewide lockdowns were put in place due to the COVID-19 outbreak, this summer was going to be a question mark as far as what to expect in sports.
When Iowa State canceled its in-person classes through the end of the spring semester and then moved to exclusively-online courses for the summer, things looked in doubt as far as what would happen during June and July.
“Obviously, we wouldn’t get that chance for them to be on campus and take a class, start workouts – that would usually be in mid-June when we normally do that,” Iowa State women’s basketball assistant coach Billy Fennelly said. “We do some team bonding type things in the summer.”
The loss of even one month of the summer would take out a valuable transitionary period for incoming recruits between high school and college.
Head coach Bill Fennelly even thought at one point that players might not be allowed to be on campus until August.
Iowa State, and college programs across the nation, got some good news regarding activities over the summer last Wednesday.
The NCAA voted to allow voluntary activities – essentially what would be happening anyways – over the summer for women’s basketball as well as football and men’s basketball.
These can start taking place as early as June 1.
“The most important part of the summer is strength and conditioning work with Coach (Cassandra Baier) as well as the team bonding,” Billy said. “Our culture is so strong and a lot of that is because of the foundation we get to lay in the summer. The basketball is an added bonus.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that all of Iowa State’s student-athletes will be allowed on campus starting June 1. Shortly after the NCAA announcement, the Big 12 announced football student-athletes will be allowed to return to voluntary campus activities on June 15 with other fall athletes joining them on July 1 and all other student-athletes on July 15.
In the meantime, Iowa State is doing what it can to get a star-studded class ready to take Ames by storm.
“But more so when you’re trying to add four players that I think everybody feels like has the chance to contribute right away, you want to give them the opportunity to just start connecting on a personal level with the kids that are already year.”
The coaches have divided groups of players with each other to hold meetings through Zoom, as Bill got used to the virtual technology.
Older players are taking a mentoring type of roll with the younger ones as well in what Billy called a ‘big sister, little sister,’ type of approach.
It probably helped a little that Ashley Joens’ little sister is already living in the same house.
“Kylie Feuerbach and Aubrey Joens have been playing together for two or three years now,” Billy said. “They had the opportunity to play together, travel together, stay in hotels together, you know all of the things that you hope the kids get a chance to do early and often in their careers.”
The pair got a head start on team bonding before each committed to Iowa State’s 2020 class.
“We try to put them in touch, in whatever way they do that,” Billy said. “Texts, Instagram messaging – whatever they do – I know they’ve been (staying in touch) over the last few months.”
No matter how this summer unfolds, this class got a bit of a head start.
Whether that advantage could potentially be taken away, essentially, isn’t up to them. However, the team hasn’t lost any time as of right now, even if it seems like it.
“Even though it feels like they are behind, it’s the middle of May,” Billy said. “High schoolers would be wrapping up graduation stuff. It feels a little bit off because they’ve all been at home for over a couple of months, now, and they’re all chomping at the bit to get back.”
They’re still in a great spot.
“In terms of preparation for next season, we’re not behind at all because we wouldn’t have even started until mid-June I don’t think.”