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With Stephanie Soares out for the season, Iowa State women’s basketball has to be ‘creative’
Loss of 6-6 post to injury means other Cyclones have to step up
AMES — Iowa State’s women’s basketball players went through a walk-through and shoot-around Monday.
The Cyclones were somber and staid; still numb to the reality that talented 6-foot-6 graduate transfer Stephanie Soares was out for the season because of a torn ACL sustained in Sunday’s 82-79 loss at No. 19 Oklahoma.
Then Soares showed up in the gym, and every player flowed toward her.
“Steph wanted me to tell the team (the prognosis), so I did,” said ISU head coach Bill Fennelly, whose 15th-ranked team faces Kansas State (12-4, 1-2) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Hilton Coliseum (ESPN+). “And we were out shooing and just kind of — like I said, everyone was just kind of walking around. It was like ‘The Walking Dead’ or something. Just weird.
“I’m not smart enough to even explain it and then when Steph walked into the gym and they were shooting, they all just ran over to her. They loved playing with her, but they loved just being around her.”
Those relationships will endure as the Cyclones (10-3, 2-1 Big 12) seek to find contributions from fresh places to make up for Soares’ 15 points and 10 rebounds per game. No one can replace her shot-blocking ability, but Fennelly said ISU must adopt a “bullpen by committee” approach to remain highly competitive.
“We’re going to have to be creative in some ways,” Fennelly said. “The really good players on our team have to play great. Some of the kind that have been playing and maybe not producing at the level we need them to have to play better. And there’s always players that think they should be playing. They’re gonna get to play.
“I told the team yesterday that it’s terrible. It was arguably one of the worst days of my professional life. Not just because of on the court. She’s such an amazing person.”
Fennelly’s best players — aka “the Big Three” consisting of all-time leading scorer Ashley Joens, Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski — have excelled consistently throughout their respective careers. They served as the core for last season’s team that won a program-record 28 games and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in 12 years.
“The whole team is going to have to step up to fill that void,” Ryan said. “It’s not on the shoulders of one or two people.”
But a handful of players may be key to keeping ISU on course. One, center Morgan Kane, was a starter on last season’s team and remained a prime contributor off the bench this season.
“I’m confident we can fill that role in different ways and find ways to score and get stops and play our basketball,” the 6-3 senior said.
Sprinkle in more production and/or playing time for players such as Denae Fritz, Nyamer Diew, and Maggie Espnemiller-McGraw, and Fennelly believes the Cyclones can again challenge for a Big 12 title and mount a sustained run in March.
“Last year’s team wasn’t bad,” Fennelly said with a smile. “And the core of those guys are still in the locker room.”
So the ceiling remains high for ISU and Soares, who is expected to make a full recovery and possibly could return next season after an injury waiver is filed. Fennelly said he heard from “almost every” WNBA team asking him to keep them apprised as Soares heals.
“I told every single team if you don’t draft her you’re out of your mind,” Fennelly said. “Because if she doesn’t come back here, she’s proven — and I think her stock, if you look at a stock market kind of thing, people were buying that one a lot.”