AMES – The buzz with Iowa State’s memorable run through the NCAA women’s basketball tournament stretched all the way to Colorado, where Anna Prins was screaming just as loudly and gnawing her fingernails just as vigorously.
The Cyclones marched on to the Elite Eight, and Prins, a November signee, was watching every minute, wishing she was a part of this March Madness.
“It made my heart race a few times,” Prins said.
The freshman center from Broomfield, Colo., one of the top post recruits nationally, has dreams of taking the Cyclones to even greater heights over the next four years.
“It would be awesome to make a Final Four, or even better,” Prins said. “We just have to work really, really hard and focus on our goal. “
An accomplishment that grand depends largely on Prins and the rest of ISU’s freshman class. Coach Bill Fennelly’s rotation will be heavy on youth. Prins, who stands 6-foot-6, likely will be in the center of it all.
Seniors Nicky Wieben, Heather Ezell, Amanda Nisleit, Jocelyn Anderson and Toccara Ross are gone. Would-be sophomores Ashley Arlen, Alexis Yackley and Claire Rockall also left the program.
Four freshmen and junior college transfer Chassidy Cole are going to have to help fill the void.
“It pushes us to work harder in the offseason to earn our spot and play to our potential,” said freshman forward Chelsea Poppens. “We know (Fennelly) expects a lot of us now that there are not as many returning sophomores. He expects us to step up.”
Last year’s team finished 27-9 overall and 11-5 in the Big 12 Conference.
They tied the school record for victories and finished 17th in the final Associated Press poll. It was the Cyclones’ second Elite Eight in the 10 NCAA tournament appearances over Fennelly’s 13 seasons.
The bar already was set awfully high. It’s even higher now.
“You want to keep that bar high,” Poppens said. “It’s good pressure.”
Prins welcomes the expectations, feeling the team will be able to live up to them.
“It’s not so much pressure,” she said. “The way I look at it, it’s a challenge. I’m really excited about the other girls coming in with me and the rest of the team.”
Prins led her Broomfield H.S. team to three straight state championships and was a two-time first-team all-state pick.
Poppens, a 6-2 forward, played volleyball, basketball and ran track for tornado-ravaged Aplington-Parkersburg. She says rebounding and playing around the basket are her strong suits.
“I’m more of a post player. I’m not too much of shooter,” Poppens said.
Six-foot-one forward Amanda Zimmerman, a former teammate of ISU guard Alison Lacey at Ballard H.S. in Huxley, and 5-11 guard/forward Jessica Schroll from Midland, Mich., make up one of Fennelly’s most ballyhooed recruiting classes.
Add in Cole, a do-it-all kind of guard from Howard College in Big Spring, Texas, and it is an impressive class. Cole will be a sophomore.
“As we get more experienced the future will be exciting to see how it turns out,” Prins said. “But let’s get through this summer first.”
Prins has good basketball blood lines.
Her father, Adell, was a 7-footer at Colorado State. Prins admits she may not be completely prepared right now, but is confident she will.
“Sometimes when I think about it it’s hard to imagine myself out there in a college game,” Prins said. “The pace is quicker, it’s so much faster and more physical. I think I’ll be able to adapt pretty well… Sometimes it takes just being thrown out there and get that exposure to really learn how it is.”
The four incoming freshmen have been in Ames over the past week helping with ISU’s youth basketball camps.
Prins said last season’s success will help motivate the new and returning players. They want to experience a high like that again.
“I think it’s a really good momentum-builder going into this year,” she said. “I totally trust the coaching staff that they’ll get us where we need to be.”