With the Iowa State women’s basketball season opener two weeks away, Cyclones’ Media Day offered up some insight on what was to come in the following weeks and how the offseason helped a few valuable players recover from injuries.
The Cyclone women’s basketball team received its highest preseason ranking, No. 15, in the AP Preseason Poll since the 2001-02 season, and the higher the ranking the higher the expectations.
Iowa State Head Coach Bill Fennelly said predictions and expectations are fine, but the team is just living in the moment.
Time for recovery
Iowa State returns its three top leading scorers in junior Ashley Joens (20.5 points per game), senior Kristin Scott (14.2 points per game) and senior Rae Johnson (8.9 points per game).
However, Scott and senior Madison Wise all missed some time last season due to injury. Johnson also missed the first game last season.
Scott played limited minutes in the beginning of the season due to a back injury and was also out in the Cyclones’ last game against Baylor because of the same injury.
“I’ve always been told the ultimate recovery for my back would be to get more than a few weeks off like I do during the season,” Scott said. “In a weird way, yeah, quarantine kind of was good for my back. I used that full time to my advantage, and I was able to do rehab at home. My trainers, they stayed in contact with me during that time to make sure I was keeping up with my workouts, [I] had modified workouts during then, so I think it really helped me and I’m feeling good now.”
Fennelly said if she can stay healthy, she will have a monster season and that so far, she’s been really good.
Wise was out for 10 straight games last season and had issues with concussions and migraines. She said last year was a challenge because before then, she had never even missed a game, but she is feeling a lot better now.
“I’m super thankful that our staff and our coaches got me to the right doctors and the right places,” Wise said. “[I’m] feeling good, ready to be back out there with the team.”
Wise said it has helped her confidence knowing her migraines weren’t concussion-based and had nothing to do with getting hit and that she can get in there and get rebounds without being scared to play aggressively.
Johnson said it makes a huge difference when players like Scott and Wise are out, and she is very excited to have them play because they bring a lot to the team.
Johnson has also dealt with her own injuries and said she took the time over to rehab.
“I’ve been rehabbing all summer and even before practice every day,” Johnson said. “So I’m very healthy and I’m excited to keep going.”
Adapting to COVID-19
As COVID-19 continues to make an impact across the country, it also makes an impact here at Iowa State as well.
In a letter to fans Nov. 5, Athletic Director Jamie Pollard announced Hilton Coliseum fan attendance would be limited to 1,373 fans, or less than 10 percent capacity, for men’s and women’s basketball.
“Luckily, we’re getting some fans in the stands, that’s exciting,” Fennelly said.
Hilton Coliseum is a place known for its fan atmosphere, or “Hilton Magic,” so the women’s basketball team will have to make up for the loss of energy that comes with the loss of fans.
Wise said she will do that by stepping up as a leader and being more vocal on the court and on the bench.
“We obviously have the best fans in the country,” Wise said. “It is disappointing that not all of them will be able to pack Hilton, but just bringing energy, I know our team has a lot of good leaders on it and just being more vocal, standing up on the bench, cheering, high-fiving each other, well, air-fiving as coach called it earlier, just being super supportive of each other cause we are used to having a great atmosphere here.”
Another thing the team is doing is trying to hold each other accountable, especially as coronavirus cases on campus continue to grow.
Johnson said they all want the same goal — to stay healthy in order to be able to play this season.
“We have a goal as a team, it’s to stay healthy,” Johnson said. “All of us are really mentally put together, we all want the same goal. We are going to hold each other accountable, but so far, nothing has really happened … we all want success and to play together, so we’re doing whatever we can to do that.”
The team had to stay positive before they knew whether there would still be a season.
Wise said it was difficult not knowing, but everyone was in an unknown situation, not just basketball players, and they just had to keep working hard.
“Just knowing that everyone is going through it, you just keep working hard, keep conditioning, keep weightlifting,” Wise said. “… Doing our best to do what we can, not knowing if there’s a season, just staying positive and just working out like there was going to be a season.”
Virtual game nights bring the chemistry
With the shutdown came the question of how much time teams would have together before the start of the season to develop team chemistry, especially with new transfers and freshmen.
Not only that, but with some key players missing time last year, that can also disrupt team chemistry and trust players have in each other, something Fennelly had in a discussion with Joens.
“The other thing I told [Joens] was she’s gotta have a lot of trust, and obviously if you don’t trust your sister [Aubrey Joens], who you gonna trust? But I think you gotta have a lot of trust in your teammates,” Fennelly said. “That if you’re going to give up the ball, they can make a play for you, and I think all of her teammates can. And you think about not just Kristin [Scott], you know Madi [Wise] missed a lot last year, freshmen, some players are back and some are new, but there are a lot of players who missed time with Ash on the court, and I think if we can pull that stuff together it helps us all but it’ll help her too.”
One way the team is working on team chemistry is by having virtual game nights.
Scott said they made it an emphasis to make sure they were all able to hang out some way, even though there is COVID-19.
“We did virtual game nights and movie nights, social distanced,” Scott said. “Even though we lost out on all that summer time together, we’ve been able to make up for it by doing those things.”
Scott said the game nights were over Zoom and they would connect once or twice a week. They would also go out for ice cream for birthdays with masks.
“Anything we could do to be together but still do it safely, we were able to do that,” Scott said.