116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly settled on one piece of trivia when describing how big the Cy-Hawk game has become since he took over the program in 1996.
“I guess the easiest way to put it is when we first came to Iowa State my first year, literally Iowa State was not on Iowa’s schedule,” said Fennelly, whose No. 15 Cyclones will face the 12th-ranked Hawkeyes at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Hilton Coliseum. “Iowa State wasn’t good enough to be on Iowa’s schedule. And now you’re turning around to see two teams that are in the top 20 — and my first game at Iowa State we had 311 people. There’ll be a lot more than that here (Wednesday). And to see it grow has been fun.”
That growth is hard to quantify, let along fully grasp and appreciate.
The Cyclones (8-1) and the Hawkeyes (5-1) will meet as top-15 programs for the first time.
The star players on each side — Iowa State’s Ashley Joens and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark — are both in-state talents.
And the two head coaches — Fennelly and Lisa Bluder — have led their respective programs into a Cy-Hawk game more than 20 times, which serves as a testament to their abilities to build sustained success in a sport where it’s exceedingly rare.
“Well, I think it speaks volumes about the universities first,” Fennelly said. “The athletic departments at both schools have taken a very serious approach to allowing — I can only speak for us, but Iowa’s similar (in that) they want good coaches, they want good programs, they want resources so that you can build good programs. It’s a great sense of pride for both and I think that’s why it’s happened over the years, and certainly something that hopefully the people — it is such a unique situation to be in a state that’s small in population to have four Division I women’s programs that are really good that represent three different leagues. I just don’t know that you can really quantify that in the grand scheme of things.”
That uniqueness is why this rivalry has morphed into one of national significance.
Wednesday’s game will be televised on ESPNU — and it’s a safe bet that 10,000-plus fans will populate the stands at Hilton, as well.
“After last year without having all the fans, that will be exciting to get everyone back in Hilton,” Cyclone sophomore guard Aubrey Joens said.
Iowa has won the past five meetings, with the most recent three being decided by one or two possessions. Fennelly won his first five games against Iowa, but it’s become a back-and-forth series ever since.
“You’re going to play a really, really good team and you’re going to be challenged at both ends of the floor for 40 minutes,” Fennelly said. “Then you’re going to learn a lot about your team. Can they handle the moment? What kinds of things do we need to do better? And that’s kind of the nature of these games. Very few of them are blowouts. They’re ultra-competitive — usually close and hopefully you make a few more plays. And oftentimes it’s a player that doesn’t get all the attention before the game that might make a play or two that changes the game for one side or the other.”
So while the spotlight rightly illuminates Ashley Joens’ skills (20.2 points, 9.4 rebounds) and Clark’s diverse talents (22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.8 assists per game), the Cy-Hawk women’s basketball game is about more than matchups, stat lines or who’s hot or who’s not.
It’s about a true rivalry that began one season after Fennelly arrived in Ames. One year after the Cyclones weren’t “good enough” to be on Iowa’s schedule. At a time where few could have foreseen how the matchup would rise to must-see status for women’s basketball fans, not just in Iowa but across the country.
“I’m a fanatical college football fan and rivalries usually are about football,” Fennelly said. “This rivalry became about every sport. … So to be a part of a rivalry in college sports is really cool. I think it’s been fun for everyone and certainly something we’re very, very proud of. It means a lot to us. It really does.”