For the third time in program history, Iowa State is the preseason favorite to win the Big 12.
It’s the first time that’s happened since 2000, and it’s no secret that expectations are sky high in Ames for the team coming off of a Sweet 16 appearance.
“I think it’s a tribute to our players and my assistants that the other coaches in the league think that we’re good, too,” coach Bill Fennelly said. “This isn’t our opinion – it’s other people’s that have to play against our players.”
Iowa State fans know that that’s a big honor, and with the shape of the conference in years past, it’s a significant spot to be in.
However, it’s not something that is putting any more pressure on Iowa State than it felt a week ago or seven months ago following its season-ending loss to Creighton.
“I think it’s a great thing,” Fennelly said. “I really do. Our players have high expectations for themselves. If we don’t have high expectations, then there’s something wrong with us. There’s no extra pressure. There really isn’t. We all know that we have a lot of players back and we should be good.”
Iowa State returns Ashley Joens, the all-time leading scorer in program history and a first team all-American.
She elected to come back for an extra season to make one more run in the NCAA Tournament come March, rather than giving the WNBA a go just yet.
“Obviously, every year we come into it we want to be the number one team,” Joens said. “If we have a tough game, are we going to bounce back or are we going to give up? We have to find out who we are and use that to help us.”
Joens joins fellow all-conference selections Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski, along with the remainder of Iowa State’s roster, which all mostly stuck around.
As college sports fans have been accustomed to seeing, the extra year of eligibility granted in response to the pandemic has allowed for some of the most experienced groups at any time.
“That’s something we honestly don’t focus on,” Ryan said of the preseason ranking. “We really just focus on what we can control like showing up every day and every practice. Right now, we’re focused on having a good practice tomorrow.”
Iowa State will take the floor against some other competition for the first time a week from this Saturday, traveling to Brookings, South Dakota for a scrimmage against South Dakota State (October 22).
Then, the season is at full-go, and the Cyclones will enjoy the preseason top pick until that first test comes.
“We’ve taken it as a positive,” Fennelly said of the competitors ranking Iowa State first. “I think it’s great for our program and yeah, at the end of the year, if we don’t do very well, there will be other discussions, probably. But for now, it’s a lot of fun.”