The atmosphere and passion of fans inside Hilton Coliseum for Wednesday’s Cy-Hawk game (6 p.m. ESPN2) will be unlike any a majority of Iowa State’s players have ever been a part of.
When the Cyclones face off with their stout and experienced in-state rival in No. 4 Iowa, they will hope that some of it will offset their own inexperience.
“The atmosphere (of the Cy-Hawk game) is honestly unlike any I’ve ever seen before,” freshman post Audi Crooks said. “I think here at Hilton it will be nothing short. I think it will be probably 10 times as loud and as hectic (as I’ve seen), and being able to experience that atmosphere while being on the floor surrounded by a sold-out Hilton Coliseum – that will be a moment I remember for the rest of my life.”
That bright-light style atmosphere that goes hand-in-hand with the rivalry will be something Iowa State’s players will have to adjust to before tipoff and in the opening minutes of this game.
The Cyclones boast five true freshmen that all play in the rotation along with a pair of transfers that don’t hold any experience in the rivalry, as well.
“Me personally, I was more nervous (when I was) up in the crowd watching,” Iowa City native and Iowa State true freshman Kelsey Joens said. “While I’m playing, it’s completely different. (When you’re watching), you have no control. Now that I’m out on the floor, I can control some of it.”
And while players will try to limit the impact of a raucous crowd, the rivalry series’ games have brought out some unlikely heroes.
Iowa State will be finding out what that does to almost every player that sees the floor in the game, while trying to limit the scoring output of women’s basketball star Caitlin Clark.
“It’s gonna be a lot of people,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said of which of his players will be tasked with guarding Clark. “She’s un-guardable. In my lifetime, I don’t know that I’ve said that about a lot of people. She has the ball in her hands all the time. There’s been a lot of great teams, and a lot better coaches than me, that have not been able to figure it out. And we’re not gonna figure it out by Wednesday. So, you have to do the best you can figure out ways to limit the damage.”
Iowa State has taken that approach to some opponents in the past – think of Ayoka Lee at Kansas State or some of those post-loaded games (and wins) against Baylor in recent seasons.
However, it’s rare that a team’s dynamic player fills the role that Clark does for the Hawkeyes.
“I think the biggest thing is we stress, don’t commit silly fouls, don’t give up a lot of really easy transition baskets,” Fennelly said. “She’s going to hit a logo three, so if I’m the Pioneer people get your camera ready. She’s gonna hit one. You know, it is what it is. And that’s what happens when you play great player. We have to control what we can. She’s going to do what she does. The other kids are going to do what they do. It’s just we have to manage our emotion, control what (we) can, play the game the right way and hopefully hang around long enough where you get a chance to win at the end.”
That’s not to say Fennelly’s gameplan is anything short of extensive.
He and his staff have been plugging in different looks, and rotations, throughout the first seven games the team has played to this point.
It’s something that the staff, which is the longest tenured group in women’s basketball, did out of necessity because of the team’s overall lack of experience.
But that challenge that its faced could hold value – at least to Iowa’s staff being unfamiliar with a rotation seldomly used or not seen yet.
One player the Hawkeyes will spotlight will be Crooks, as well as Sacramento State transfer Isnelle Natabou, as the Cyclones try to attack the paint.
Iowa’s post Hannah Stuelke, has been out with an injury since the team’s November 24 game against Purdue Fort Wayne.
Addison O’Grady has played in relief for Stuelke, but has not scored at the same clip.
“I think it will be a really good battle in the paint,” Crooks, who was heavily recruited by both programs. “I think Iowa has some very good post players, but we’re not sure on post players ourselves. It will be interesting, but really fun, to compete down low and see who comes out on top.”
The play on the court will shuffle itself out, but there’s no telling what elements of the rivalry will enhance certain players or take away from others.
“There’s always another gear for everyone,” Kelsey Joens said Monday.
Just get ready to see it Wednesday.