Women's Basketball

WBB: Bill Fennelly and the Cy-Hawk rivalry he’s watched grow

Bill Fennelly is in his 27th year of coaching at Iowa State. Wednesday night will be just the 26th time his team has faced the in-state rival Iowa Hawkeyes.

In his first days at the helm in Ames, the game didn’t exist.

“When we first came to Iowa State – my first-year – Iowa State wasn’t good enough to be on Iowa’s schedule,” Fennelly said. “Now you turn around (and) see two teams in the (top 15). My first game here, there were 311 people. There will be a lot more here tomorrow.”

Iowa State expects over 10,000 people in attendance on Wednesday night to see another chapter of a rivalry that has grown throughout Fennelly’s career.

He’s a coach that’s seen it all during his time here – one that pays avid attention to the rest of Iowa State’s athletic successes.

He takes the time to watch all of it, and even though he might not go out and say this game means the most, he’ll throw a riff at Iowa when given a chance.

“To see it grow has been fun,” Fennelly said. “Rivalries are usually about football. This rivalry has become about every sport. I think you saw that Sunday in wrestling. You’re going to see it with our game. I don’t plan on coming into the other team’s bench on Wednesday, and I don’t think (Iowa coach Lisa Bluder) will come into ours. But to be a part of a rivalry in college sports is very cool. We’re very proud of it. It means a lot to our school.”

Fennelly referenced the stare-down that ensued after Iowa wrestling assistant coach Terry Brands approached Iowa State’s bench following Sunday’s Cy-Hawk dual.

He isn’t afraid to throw some words around, and he knows what a win could mean to his school and program.

The national eyes on the women’s side of college basketball will be on Ames. Iowa State’s Ashley Joens and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark are two of the most highly touted players in the sport.

“I think it’s really cool,” Fennelly said. “It’s Iowa State vs. Iowa. The two most high-profile players in the game are from our state. It’s brought attention not just within our borders but nationally, people are paying attention to this game. It just adds that much more to it.”

Fennelly has been around for every moment of the rivalry from the Bret Culbertson field goal football game and a 20-point Cyclone comeback on the men’s side, which was the same year Seanna Johnson nearly had a triple-double to lead the Cyclones past Iowa the day before.

Like anything, though, it’s essential to stay grounded. The result of Wednesday’s game won’t make or break Iowa State’s season and its got another in-state rivalry to play on Sunday against Northern Iowa.

“I don’t pay much attention to that,” Fennelly said. “I think you want to win every game, but it’s different than football. There are only 12 football games, they only play on Saturdays, and the whole world is critiqued after a football game. We’ve got another game on Sunday. We’ve got 22 games after that. Wednesday night, they’re not handing out any trophies. You get bragging rights for a day or two – but for us, you know you’re going to play a really good team and that they’ll be tested for 40 minutes. We’ll learn a lot about our team.”

But a win – which would be the first for Iowa State in the series since that 2015 game mentioned above – would put the Cyclones in a great spot going into the rest of the month and Big 12 play.

Iowa State hasn’t made it through non-conference play with one loss or less since the 2013-14 season. The team rolled through the slate undefeated but stumbled in conference games.

With its current No. 15 ranking and strength of opponents, a similar non-con mark would pay dividends for the Cyclones come Selection Sunday.

Wednesday will mark the 26th chapter of the rivalry under Fennelly. A win could be one of this team’s most significant.

“We’re playing a very good team,” Fennelly said. “Hopefully, we’re up for the task. These games are very competitive.”