Iowa State’s historic season came to a close on Friday night, as it fell 76-68 to a Creighton team that will move on to the program’s first Elite Eight and become just the fourth double-digit seed to ever make it this far.
As far as the game itself, it was one of those nights where you just have to tip your cap. The Bluejays played well, created mismatches and made big shots in big moments.
“We knew going into this game, basketball is a make-shot-miss-shot game, especially with these two teams, and they made a lot of tough shots tonight,” Iowa State Head Coach Bill Fennelly said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t get the ball in the basket when we needed it. Certainly congratulations to them. They’re a class act.”
Every team except for one will end their season with a loss, Fennelly pointed out, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. If you’ve invested this much into something it should be disappointing, he said, but it’s also something to be appreciative of.
An emotional Emily Ryan displayed that more than anyone else after the loss. The sophomore led the team in every major category with 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists while playing all 40 minutes.
That performance can be attributed to all the time she’s spent in the gym. Touted all year as someone who practices and works as hard as anyone out there, putting in those countless hours is the first thing Ryan’s mind went to when reflecting on how special this year’s group was.
“Going to practice every day was so fun,” Ryan said through tears. “Really fun team to be around, and I’m just disappointed we can’t come back tomorrow and go to work.”
Part of that emotion stems from the loss in and of itself, as the team had high hopes coming into the NCAA Tournament. But some of it could be due to the possibility that the group won’t be the exact same next year.
Maddie Frederick isn’t out on the court very much, but she is the lifeblood of the team’s bench squad and has an infectious personality. A smile can almost always be seen on her face, and she is a beloved player by both her teammates and the coaching staff.
Ashley Joens will have a decision to make on whether or not she wants to come back for a fifth year or set her sights on the WNBA. As far as that decision goes, she said she hasn’t thought about it yet and will decide soon.
But that’s what makes each season so special. Even with most of the core surely returning for the 2022-23 season, each team has it’s own unique story to write. No two squads can be the same.
Fennelly has had the team approach each part of the season as a chapter in a book. Some are great, and others not so much. Now the story on this season has been written, and it includes 28 wins, which is the most in program history, a conference leading three First Team All-Big 12 picks, a Big 12 defensive player of the year in Lexi Donarski and a player in Ashley Joens who etched her name forever into the record books.
The ink in this final chapter is still fresh, and that’s why the loss hurts so much right now. But when that ink dries, that’s when you can look back and appreciate everything for what it was.
Following the game, Fennelly said his seven year old grandson Will walked into the coaches’ locker room sobbing. He loved this team, as all Cyclone fans do, and it was tough to see this season end. Switching into a grandfather role after serving as a coach all night, Fennelly spent some time talking to his young grandson about being thankful for what this season has been.
“I spent a lot of time trying to console him, and you know, if you don’t care that’s okay,” Fennelly said. “I told him, I said: ‘Will, don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.’ We’re gonna smile big when we get home.”