Iowa State’s women’s basketball program is currently ranked No. 12 in the country. It’s the third-highest start in the AP rankings the Cyclones have had under head coach Bill Fennelly.
The team has more question marks than the normal, run-of-the-mill top-15 team going into the year.
For starters, Iowa State’s standout player Ashley Joens, who was recently picked by ESPN as the ninth-best player in the nation, is questionable to play in Tuesday’s season opener against Omaha (11:00 a.m. CT at Hilton Coliseum).
“She has not practiced yet (since injuring her ankle in Thursday’s exhibition game),” Fennelly said. “We’re going to try and run her a bit today and see (how she does). I’d say she’s questionable. She could probably join the swim team with as much as she’s been in the pool (rehabbing the injury).”
Fennelly reiterated that he and his staff believe the extent of the injury is just a rolled ankle, something not uncommon in the basketball world.
They just want to make sure they take care of it before the schedule and difficulty of it ramps up.
“Yeah, you’re talking about an all-around player that might not play,” Fennelly said. “You don’t want it to be this chronic ankle – it’s been sore and she got rolled on really bad in that game. We just want to be smart. We play tomorrow, and then we don’t play until the following Monday. You just want to do everything you can (to give her rest) because once you get into the season, you’re playing every two days. So, those are the kind of things that you want to take care of.”
For Tuesday, though, a plethora of Iowa State’s focus will be put into its post position.
The Cyclones are planning to approach the first part of the schedule on a by-committee basis at the No. 5 position.
After the departure of Kristin Scott, they come into the year with four options and no clear No. 1 choice to play the spot.
“I think it’s really big,” Fennelly said. “Our schedule is very, very hard. It’s probably a little bit above our head with who we’re playing and the turnaround time that we have. So, yeah, we’ve got to go out and play, but that’s the nature of it. You’re on a scholarship. You’re here to play. The other team doesn’t care that you’re inexperienced or learning. We’re going to fight that all year.”
Freshman Izzi Zingaro finished Thursday night’s game against Wisconsin-River Falls with a double-double. Morgan Kane started the game and collected four points and seven boards in just nine minutes.
But, that came against a Division-III school. Omaha, considered a middle-of-the-road Summit League team, made a run to the conference championship game last season before ultimately losing to South Dakota.
They’ll be more stout competition.
“Every team has things they have to work on and that’s what we have to be able to do,” Fennelly said. “I think that we’ve practiced really well up to this point. They’re ready to go, and tomorrow they’ll see a team that plays two post players at the same time – which, we haven’t seen a lot. Those are just things from every game where you learn, evolve and get better.”
While Fennelly waits for the next 40 minutes of evaluation on his team, the players will be tasked with living up to their ranking.
It doesn’t change the long-time coach’s philosophy, nor how the squad prepares to play, but it does put some extra attention on the program.
“Obviously, they know it,” Fennelly said. “They live on their phones. Social media is probably the most important thing in their lives, you know. We’re going to turn the ball over and we’re going to lose things, but they’re not going to lose their phones. So they know what’s going on and what you guys and everybody else says. I don’t know that it’s more pressure, though. Anytime Iowa State gets that attention in any sport and anything that we do on campus, it’s a good thing. It’s a positive thing.”
The Cyclones will kick off their journey, playing an official game for the first time since an 84-82 overtime loss to Texas A&M in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament last season, on Tuesday morning.
It’s not hard to so figure out their goal for this year.