Iowa State’s women’s basketball team advanced as far as it ever has in the NCAA Tournament, losing to Stanford in the Elite Eight earlier this week.
What are the chances they can do this again in the near future?
Hard to say right now.
If recruits see ISU as a destination and Coach Bill Fennelly continues to get the most out of his players, what’s to stop them?
The Cyclones’ style of offense is unique and can give opponents difficulty if it is not ready to guard the 3-pointer or be disciplined on the defensive end with all the sets ISU runs.
Improve athletically at some spots and this is a perrennial Sweet 16 team with hopes for more.
That said, some pretty important players are leaving the program in guard Heather Ezell and post players Nicky Wieben and Amanda Nisleit.
You’d have never believed it four years ago when she came in — or now, really, with career scoring and rebounding averages of 4.9 and 3.4, respectively — but Nisleit may be the biggest loss.
The forward’s numbers got better every year and she was the only Cyclone named to the Berkeley Regional all-tournament team. She averaged 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the four postseason games.
All this from an unathletic, 6-footer from Woodbury, Minn., who few expected much from.
“Next year we are all going to be looking around saying, ‘Where’s Nis?’” Coach Bill Fennelly said. “There’s not a kid who plays any harder. She’s 6-foot and can’t jump over the Gilbert phone book, but it’s all about effort.”
“With her and Heather (Ezell), you can’t measure heart or their soul or how much commitment they have to this school and this team.”
Guard Alison Lacey will be a senior next season and the unquestioned leader of the team. She’ll need some help carrying the scoring load with four of the team’s top seven scorers out of eligibility.
Ezell finished her career tied with Megan Taylor for the school’s all-time record for 3-pointer made (287). And Wieben could be counted on to average 10 to 12 points and 5 to 8 rebounds a game.
Some really talented freshmen are coming in — perhaps the most touted collection of recruits Fennelly has had in his 14 seasons.
Local kid — and former Lacey teammate at Ballard High School, in nearby Huxley — Amanda Zimmerman is one of three newcomers standing 6-foot-1 or taller.
The highest-rated of the bunch is 6-6 center Anna Prins from Broomfield, Colo., whose team won its third-straight Class 4A state championship and has a 106-4 record during her four seasons at the school.
Prins scored 15 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, blocked seven shots and dished out two assists in the championship game.
She has a chance to be an impact player in her first season.
Aplington-Parkersburg forward Chelsea Poppens and Midland, Mich., guard Jessica Schroll are the other two members of the incoming class. Poppens is 6-2, Schroll is 5-11.
Shooting guard Kelsey Bolte, a junior-to-be, will have to take her game up a level.
It would be nice if Denae Stuckey could be more of an offensive threat, but what she provides in energy, defense and hustle is awfully good for this group.
Forward Ashley Arlen and guard Whitney Williams flashed some promise in their freshmen seasons and are the heir apparents at their positions.
ISU’s starting five come November could look something like this: Lacey, Bolte, Williams, Prins, Arlen. With Stuckey, sophomore guard Alexis Yackley, and the freshmen coming off the bench.
Most importantly, the Cyclones have a floor general, someone who has the ball at crunch time and can create for herself and others at any time.
Stacy Frese, Lindsey Wilson, Anne O’Neil and Lyndsey Medders are some of the players Fennelly has had in the past.
Lacey is that person and has to be in her final season for the Cyclones to succeed.
The Cyclones’ hopes for another deep tournament run next season rest on her shoulders. It took 10 years for ISU to duplicate its Elite Eight run of the 1998-99 season.
With the taste fresh in their mouths, these players and recruits don’t want to wait another decade for it to happen again.