116 3rd St SE
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AMES — Sophomore point guard Emily Ryan has been Iowa State’s vocal leader since the first day she stepped on the practice court.
The 5-foot-11 Ryan was a highly-touted recruit out of Claflin, Kan., ranked No. 70 in the nation despite attending a school that had a graduating class of 14. Still, being a top recruit doesn’t make a player a leader.
Ryan’s work ethic and understanding of the game have made her the leader of the Cyclones. Ashley Joens and Lexi Donarski will score more points and put up better numbers, but Ryan is the leader of the team.
“Her leadership ability is very unique,” Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly said Wednesday during media day. “When you play point guard, you’re a leader by default. But what she’s done in the short amount of time that she’s done it in, I’ve never seen anything like it. Ever.
“It reminds me of what Brock Purdy did for football. She just has that ‘it’ factor that every player on the team migrates toward.”
Purdy isn’t the best player on the team — that would be Breece Hall, Mike Rose or Charlie Kolar. But Purdy’s leadership is what’s made him a special quarterback and special piece to the Cyclone football team.
It’s the same with Ryan. Joens and Donarski are special basketball players — Joens is an All-American and Donarski is the reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year — but Ryan steers the ship.
What makes Ryan’s leadership special is there are no off days. Everyday she’s the same leader to everyone on the team.
“No. 1, it’s unique that anyone talks because they’re so used to being buried in their phone that they don’t talk to anyone,” Fennelly said. “She does it with a great amount of consistency and it’s everyone. If you hear her talking, you’ll hear her talking to everyone. It’s not just a couple players that she focuses on. She has a really good sense of when a teammate needs her voice. She’s done a great job with the freshmen and helping them transition to college life.
“I’m so old that there used to be a commercial for a financial planner named EF Hutton. The commercial used to be, ‘When EF Hutton speaks, people listen.’ That’s Emily Ryan. Emily Ryan is our EF Hutton.”
Ryan didn’t seek out the role, but she’s happy to fill it.
“It’s just something that came naturally to me,” Ryan said. “Everyone on the team does a good job of making others feel included and comfortable. That’s the role I took on and I’m glad to be in it.”
It’s one thing for a freshman, which Ryan was last year, to lead by example. It’s a whole other deal when they’re a vocal leader, too.
It took Joens by surprise last season when Ryan stepped into the role on the first day of practice.
“When we first met her, we were like, ‘Oh Emily is pretty quiet,’” Joens said with a chuckle. “But then she comes out on the court, she’s a completely different person. She’s focused on what’s going on and she’s a leader. It was definitely a shock the first day because we were like, ‘Whoa’ but she does a great job.”
And she’s continued to do a great job.
“They trust her,” Fennelly said. “And that’s the thing. I’ve had players that talk a lot and everyone is like, ‘Just shut up.’ When she talks, everyone listens and pays attention because they know why she’s doing it and that she’s doing it from the heart and for their benefit.
“That’s a great compliment to her.”