Women's Basketball

WBB: Bill Fennelly and his staff have assembled an “all-star team” for the 2024-25 season

 Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly talks to the fans during the Cyclones’ Tailgate Tour at MidAmerican Energy RecPlex on Thursday, May 9, 2024, in West Des Moines, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

WEST DES MOINES — Bill Fennelly often jokes about how long he’s been coaching women’s basketball. The self-deprecating riffs are laced with humor, but Fennelly’s longevity in the profession is no laughing matter. He’s entering his 30th season as Iowa State’s head coach and that experience has helped him deftly maneuver within the murky waters of the transfer portal, where potential prizes and pitfalls seem to lurk around every corner.

 “Roster management is by far the hardest thing in college sports right now,” said Fennelly, who added four talented transfers to a Cyclone team poised to be highly ranked heading into the 2024-25 season. “What we’ve turned into — you hope you turn into, is an all-star team. You know, let’s bring a bunch of players in here, well, at some point you have to have a team and that’s the world we live in. And when you look at it, it’s not just us. It’s every program. Men’s, women’s, it is what it is. You have to adapt.”

 Players will come and go at a sometimes dizzying pace, but winning programs calm the chaos by taking a collective deep breath and soberly identifying and addressing needs. That’s what Fennelly and his staff did this offseason to build around budding stars Audi Crooks and Addy Brown, as well as seasoned and skilled point guard Emily Ryan. The Cyclones also return key performers such as Arianna Jackson and Kelsey Joens, so Fennelly enjoyed a head start in his quest to assemble an “all-star team” that will be expected to contend for a Big 12 title and potentially embark on a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

 “Expectations are what people think you should do or could do,” said Fennelly, whose 2023-24 team surprised many by reaching the tournament’s second round before falling to Stanford in overtime on the Cardinal’s home floor. “Well, you’ve gotta show it. You’ve gotta do it. And literally, our four (returning sophomores-to-be) Kelsey, Addy, AJ and Audi sat in my office (this week) before they left and they all talked about it. They get it and I think that’s fun.”

 But external expectations for ISU’s program this winter hinge as much on who’s been added as who’s returning. Fennelly and his staff plucked Kenzie Hare (Marquette), Sydney Harris (TCU), Lily Hansford (Oregon State), and Lilly Taulelei (Massachusetts) from the transfer portal, adding sharpshooters from the 3-point line along with size and skill in the interior.

 Hare averaged 14 points per game for the Golden Eagles last season and shot 42.5 % from 3-point range. Harris shot 40 % from beyond the arc for the Horned Frogs and Hansford drained 44.9 % of her 3-pointers in limited duty for the Beavers. Taulelei adds depth in the post as does former LSU transfer Alisa Williams, and both can spell Crooks — who earned AP honorable mention All-America honors as a freshman —  as needed.

 “It’s like draft night,” Fennelly said. “Everyone’s excited about what we’ve got. We’re gonna have 12 people in our building that maybe we’ve never had before. And like I said, I’ve been here a long time, but it’s the best 12 people, players, staff, collective group I’ve ever been a part of at Iowa State. So I’m looking forward to (getting) them all together and see if we can find a team out of it.”

 To that end, Fennelly’s already started contemplating the challenge of parceling out minutes this winter, but even that vexing exercise is welcomed in the era of the transfer portal. It means there are myriad options and competition in practice, as always, will determine the best initial rotation.

 “Because of the portal, you’re gonna have a roster of 10, 12, 15 guys, and that means 10, 12, 15 guys compete, and that means the next year, someone’s leaving,” Fennelly said. “It just is what it is. So hopefully we’ve identified, again, I keep going back to the same thing, the right people that fit Iowa State, and I don’t think we could have done a better job.”