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Graduate assistant role is a ‘win-win’ for Stephanie Soares and Iowa State women’s basketball
While rehabbing, WNBA draft pick will help newcomers like Audi Crooks
MARSHALLTOWN — Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly will welcome several new players to the program next month.
But at least one of his former stars — 6-foot-6 WNBA Draft pick Stephanie Soares — returns as a graduate assistant as she continues to rehabilitate a torn ACL.
“You want really good people in your building every single day and they don't come better than Steph,” Fennelly said Monday during a Tailgate Tour stop at the Emerson Innovation Center. “And I think to see the way she goes about her business — for our post players and for our whole team — and obviously it's a big thing for her.
“She needs to finish her rehab, she needs to do the right things. So it’s a win-win, but she's excited about it and we're looking forward to having her around.”
Soares, who averaged 14.4 points and 9.9 rebounds in 13 games with the Cyclones last season, was selected by the Dallas Wings in last month’s WNBA Draft. She’ll be stashed on injured reserve this season as she works to regain full health following the ACL tear and subsequent surgery.
Helping newcomers like Audi Crooks
Soares also will have a major impact on two incoming Cyclones in particular: Highly-touted freshman Audi Crooks of Algona Garrigan and talented 6-5 post Isnelle Natabou, who transferred in from Sacramento State.
“Being under somebody, having a mentor, especially one as phenomenal as Steph will definitely benefit me,” Crooks told The Gazette after winning the Class 1A shot put title at last week’s Iowa high school state track and field meet. “Whether it's a workout, a phone call, some advice, or just to chat, go out to lunch, that'll be a huge asset for me.”
Crooks, a multi-talented 6-3 forward, can contribute immediately as freshman. So can Natabou, who averaged a double-double in three seasons with the Hornets.
“Obviously we need some help in the post and we knew that, obviously way beforehand,” Fennelly said. “So with Audi and Isnelle you have two different kinds of players, and then (returning post player) Izzy Ingaro had a really good spring. So it gives us three people that really can be that kind of person in our league — and all for very different situations.
“I think all of them have a chance to contribute and hopefully we'll have a really good summer, because that starts June 12. We need a good summer from all of them.”
Crooks is ready to ascend to the next level after wrapping a storied high school career with the Golden Bears. She’s not only a presence on the glass and in the paint, but can adroitly drill jump shots while being a willing and capable passer both inside and around the perimeter.
Soares can help Crooks’ wide-ranging skills translate to Big 12-level competition, but she’ll also be able to mentor players at all positions about how best to successfully make that upward shift.
“We get 10 practices before our tour (of Italy in August) and that will be big,” Fennelly said. “We have a new strength coach (Erin Brocka) and a lot of new players, so every coach will say the summer’s big, but this might be the biggest summer we’ve ever had.”
Iowa State football also has ‘a really critical summer’ ahead
Same goes for ISU football, which seeks to set the stage for a return to its winning ways after enduring its first losing season since 2016.
“I think it’s a really critical summer for everybody involved,” Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell said. “When you talk the offensive line piece of it, one thing that is really beneficial is it’s another 12-week block that we get to really mix bigger, faster, stronger strength and conditioning equating to the fundamentals and skill of playing the offensive line position.
“You’re almost able to strip it back to its core root and build it back up for the fall and I think that’s really important, especially for the offensive line. It’s such a learned skill that I think anytime you’ve got an opportunity to slow it down, start back and make sure that the foundation, the strength, the core functional movement is put in place, I think you can build forward from it.”