116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Iowa State’s all-time leading scorer, Ashley Joens, didn’t appear with her team early during Tuesday’s media day at the Sukup Basketball Complex.
Call it an excused — and momentary — absence.
The first two-time winner of the Cheryl Miller Award and former Iowa City High star was finishing up a day of teaching fourth-graders at a Boone elementary school.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Joens said. “They have a lot of energy, a lot of personality.”
The same could be said about Joens and her teammates. The Cyclones were recently tabbed to win the Big 12 Conference this season by league coaches — and return almost everyone from a team that set a program record with 28 wins last season and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.
Joens, who averaged 20.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last season, remains the obvious headliner, but she’s helmed by fellow first-team all-Big 12 guards Lexi Donarski and Emily Ryan, as well as solid contributors such as Nyamer Diew, Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw and Morgan Kane, among several others.
Sprinkle in former Class 3A Miss Tennessee basketball Denae Fritz — who missed most of last season with a foot injury — and skilled 6-foot-6 Brazilian transfer Stephanie Soares, and head coach Bill Fennelly’s roster appears to be as deep and talented as it's ever been.
“There’s 200 minutes available,” Fennelly said. “And the one thing I’ve told our players over and over and over (is), ‘Fans, media, everyone says, well, the coaches decide who plays.’ That is not true. The players decide and the best players are gonna play.”
Donarski, Joens and Ryan are the three least likely to cede any minutes, but it’s a luxury for the Cyclones to feature so many players capable of contributing as starters or in stints of various lengths off the bench.
Fritz, in particular, has been impressive in early practices.
“People are gonna love watching her play,” Fennelly said. “She’s tough. She’s got an ‘it’ factor to her. We’re scrimmaging (Monday) and she had a really good day and she’s talking you-know-what to the scout team guys the whole time. And I thought that was kind of funny, but she’s going to impact our team dramatically.
“If we had a game (Tuesday night), there’s a good chance she’d be starting.”
That’s a heady position to be in. But such is life within the Cyclones’ program, where settling for anything but the best is never excused, nor even considered.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Joens said. “And at the end of the season we want to be ranked No. 1.”