AMES — Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly was close to retirement.
But this senior class of Bridget Carleton, Meredith Burkhall and Alexa Middleton has kept him going.
No. 22 Iowa State beat Kansas 69-49 on Monday at Hilton Coliseum on Senior Night to finish second in the Big 12.
“The three seniors on this team have saved this program and probably saved my coaching career,” Fennelly said. “I would not go through, again, what I’ve been going through with some of the teams we’ve had to deal with. It just was not the way it’s supposed to be.
“These three players changed the culture back to the way it’s supposed to be. They brought us back to what it used to be. It’s hard to do that in this world — it’s really hard. Bridget, Meredith and Alexa bought into the Iowa State way of doing things. They transformed our team back to the way it should be. The wins were a bonus, but the way we approach our daily lives is the way it should be. It’s an honor to say they’re on our team and it’s an honor to say I was one of their coaches.”
Carleton finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds, four steals, three assists and three blocks Monday.
Fennelly let all three of his seniors have a moment before the end of the game by taking them out one-by-one near the end of the game so the crowd on hand could thank them one last time during the regular season.
“It was a really cool moment,” Carleton said. “Obviously Hilton has meant the world to me — this school has meant the world to me. Playing our last regular season game here was really fun.”
Fennelly pulled each of his seniors aside as he took them out and gave them a little message. His message to Carleton was short and sweet.
“All I said to her was, ‘Thank you for coming to Iowa State and you’re one of the best players I’ve ever coached,’” Fennelly said. “That’s the best way to put it with her. She’s truly special. It’s hard to be a better person than you are player when you’re as good as her, but she is. She loves this place and everything about it. Luckily, she gets to play a few more games for us.”
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Middleton was a transfer from Tennessee who only had one year left to play. But she immediately stepped into the starting point guard role and was third in the Big 12 in assists in her lone year.
“The transition was tough having to leave and you only have one year to play somewhere,” Middleton said. “This opportunity has been everything and more I’ve wanted it to be. But I know this team has so much more left. We are wanting to come back here and play two more games in the NCAA Tournament. I love being here. It’s the best decision I’ve made.”
Burkhall, an Urbandale native, was a starter to begin the year but as Kristin Scott emerged for the Cyclones, Burkhall’s role diminished. But her impact on the program hasn’t.
“When you think about it, you have a kid from Canada, a kid from down the street and a one-year transfer from Tennessee that somehow figured out a way to connect with each other — that’s what college sports is supposed to be about,” Fennelly said. “There’s nothing about them that’s alike except that when they came to Iowa State, the idea was not just to put on the jersey, but wear it right. They wore it right and transformed us.
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