Women's Basketball

FERGUSON: Breaking down Iowa State’s 2024-25 WBB roster

Iowa State women’s basketball seemed primed for what is referred to as a ‘setup year,’ going into the 2023-24 season.

After a trying non-conference schedule, Iowa State found its groove, starting 6-0 in Big 12 play with five freshmen playing in the rotation on a tight-knit team that competed strong night in and night out.

With an emerging star at the post in Audi Crooks and a captain that even NHL teams could use in Emily Ryan, the Cyclones ended their season with a second-straight trip to the Big 12 championship game and an NCAA Tournament appearance that ended in the second round after narrowly losing an overtime battle against No. 2 seed Stanford on the road.

The season laid the foundation for what’s to come this winter, and the expectations are sky-high for the 2024-25 season.

Alongside Ryan and Crooks, Addy Brown returns after her breakout season, which saw the freshman averaging 13.0 points per game and a team-high 8.2 boards a night.

When putting together its roster, Iowa State looked to build around the foundation of its top three returning scorers.

A handful of departures left Iowa State with just two more players returning for next season, and each had their moments during their first years on campus.

Arianna Jackson hit double digits twice during the team’s opening games in Big 12 play, while finishing third on the team with 2.3 assists per game and a 41.3 percent mark from the 3-point line. Kelsey Joens finished the year averaging 5.3 points per game and shooting 38.8 percent from the 3-point line.

In fact, that 38.3 percent number is the lowest long-range shooting percentage of any guard on the roster.

“The staff did a great job,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “we were very focused on the right people – number one, because the core kids we have were the core of our success last year. That’s what we had to build on. But we wanted experience. We wanted talent. We wanted kids that wanted to be here. We wanted some skillsets. We wanted to find someone that could give us some depth in the post.

Iowa State went to work in the transfer portal – and went with a focus to add shooting pieces to surround Crooks.

“To my staff’s credit, we had a very short list and we got lucky,” Fennelly said. “The four kids that are coming in fit our team and fit our culture in a lot of ways.”

They came back with three sharpshooters.

Kenzie Hare brings the most experience of the group. The to-be-junior was an every-day starter for Marquette, averaging 14.0 points per game and shooting 42.5 percent from beyond the arc.

She’s not afraid to pass the rock, either.

“I think an assist feels way better than a basket any day,” Hare told CycloneFanatic. “So the more I can do that and get my teammates in positions where they can be successful and positions where they’re able to do what they do, that will make it even better.”

Hare gives Iowa State another option on the playmaking front, which was already tough to defend with what Ryan is able to do.

Sydney Harris comes to Iowa State from TCU, where she played for the conference portion of the season due to an injury.

Harris shot 40 percent from the 3-point line and averaged 9.4 points per game while coming off of the bench. She’s on to her third school, after starting out at Central Michigan and averaged 17.4 per night, and has two years of eligibility left.

Iowa State added another pair of transfers on Sunday, officially, beating out Miami to land Lily Hansford from Oregon State.

The Wisconsin native averaged 5.1 points in 17 minutes per game in her second year at Oregon State, but put up a 44.9 percent clip from behind the arc for the Beavers.

Surrounding Crooks with shooters was the plan, and this staff delivered on it.

It’s other addition to the roster also announced her commitment on Sunday, with the Cyclones landing former UMass post Lilly Taulelei to fill the depth spot for a departing Isnelle Natabou.

Taulelei averaged 6.7 points and 2.5 rebounds per game for UMass last season as a true freshman.

That spot can be a tough sell, too. There is never going to be a big number of players in the portal that will choose to play in more of a reserve role behind an emerging star.

However, Iowa State beat out Nebraska to land Taulelei, who was also pursued by Missouri, Mississippi State and BYU.

It was a big win for Iowa State to fill the spot with a true sophomore that has room to develop down the road.

That will be another case to pay attention through this year – with a roster rounded out by two prep players that can shoot it well, too.

Aili Tanke won the national 3-point shooting tournament earlier this year, and Reagan Wilson has shown she can light up a stat sheet on any given night as well.

With the roster Iowa State pieced together, each of them will have adequate time to feel out the college game and make the transition.

Iowa State fans won’t see the work being put in over the summer up close and personally, but the expectations are here.

With the Cyclones predicted to be a top 15 team (and that might be underselling it) when preseason rankings come out, the competition will take notice.

There’s no flying under the radar with this group anymore, and this program is in the spot to make big noise again.