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Editor’s note: This is fifth in a series counting down the Top 10 moments in Iowa State Cyclones women’s athletics history in the days leading up to the 50th anniversary of Title IX on Thursday.
AMES — Bill Fennelly is rarely a man of few words.
Iowa State’s loquacious — and extremely successful — women’s head basketball coach nonetheless became nearly speechless in the wake of the program’s landmark, 64-58, upset triumph over mighty Connecticut in the 1999 NCAA tournament Sweet 16.
“It's hard to put into words what this team has accomplished,' Fennelly told reporters after the win that ranks No. 1 in our countdown of top moments in ISU women’s sports history since the passage of Title IX. “Every game we do something special. We weren't satisfied to just give them a good game and be happy making it to the Sweet 16.”
Countless examples of how Fennelly and his staff turned a once-downtrodden program into a perennial winner lurked within the closing moments of the momentous win:
- Down 50-44 with 5:26 remaining, the late Monica Huelman drained a crucial 3-point shot. The former Vinton-Shellsburg standout scored five points in the game, but that basket ignited a stirring run.
- Megan Taylor’s 3-pointer with just over three minutes remaining put the Cyclones ahead for good against the top-seeded Huskies, who had never previously lost in the Sweet 16.
- Former Cedar Rapids Washington star Stacy Frese led ISU with 16 points — and drained two 3-pointers along with two free throws in the final five minutes to cement the win.
In short, belief and execution merged with clutch shot-making to catapult the Cyclones to an unlikely victory. The program placed itself on the national map and it has been there ever since.
In Fennelly’s 27 seasons as head coach, ISU has failed to post a winning record just three times. The Cyclones have made 20 NCAA tournament appearances in that span, as well as six Sweet 16 trips.
That’s where ISU found itself last March before falling to upstart Creighton. The Cyclones set a program record for wins (28) and will likely be ranked near or among the top five teams this preseason.
So while the UConn win set the stage for broader success, Fennelly’s ensured ISU has remained in contention for future breakthroughs and each one brings its own unique sense of joy and accomplishment.
“I told our kids, everyone’s like, ‘Does it ever get old?’” Fennelly said before his team’s 2022 NCAA tournament-opening win against UT-Arlington at Hilton Coliseum. “Well, there’s a lot of kids sitting up there that haven’t had this (NCAA tournament) experience at home. They don’t do it 20 times. They might do it once. Ashley Joens is gonna do it four (or five) times. That’s great.
“So it is why you do what you do.”