AMES — Bill Fennelly got his Iowa State women’s basketball team to largely overperform even his own expectations throughout the 2019-20 season.
It was a young team with only one senior who got meaningful playing time. The Cyclones were led by sophomore Ashley Joens and junior Kristin Scott. Fennelly expected a mostly up-and-down season.
Iowa State put an exclamation point on the season by beating No. 2 Baylor, 57-56, in what ended up being the final game.
Now, the team will be a year older when next season comes around, which is important because they’ll need to lead the best recruiting class Fennelly has ever signed.
Iowa State’s 2020 recruiting class is ranked as the No. 8 class in the nation by ESPN and every one of the four signees is ranked in the top 75 in the nation, headlined by La Crosse, Wis., native Lexi Donarski. Donarski checks in at No. 14 in the nation, making her the highest-rated recruit to ever sign with Iowa State.
The 5-foot-10 guard has strong ties to Iowa State and committed to the Cyclones when she was in eighth grade. She grew up watching former Iowa State star and now Toronto Raptor Matt Thomas as well as former Iowa State player Scott Christopherson.
According to the Des Moines Register, Dave Donarski, Lexi’s father, was in former Iowa State assistant coach T.J. Otzelberger’s wedding when he married former Iowa State women’s basketball player Alison Lacey, who graduated in 2010.
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“Lexi is one of the most highly-rated players in the country,” Fennelly said. “She is extremely skilled with a very high basketball IQ. Unlike most young players she is a willing defender and can impact the game at both ends of the floor.”
Aubrey Joens, the second-highest rated recruit in the class, also has strong ties to Iowa State. Her sister Ashley is the best player on the team and among the best in the Big 12 Conference.
Ashley Joens was a first-team All-Big 12 player last season and was named Big 12 Player of the Week more times than any other player last season.
Fennelly said while there are similarities to the way the sisters play, they do play a little different. Ashley proved last season to be a prolific scorer driving to the hoop or pulling up for a midrange shot. She’s not just a spot-up 3-point shooter, which was her role as a freshman.
Fennelly sees a similar role for Aubery as she comes in as a freshman from Iowa City High.
“We are thrilled to add another Joens to the program,” Fennelly said. “Aubrey is one of the most dynamic 3-point shooters in the country coming out of high school. Like Ash she is a scorer and fits the way we like to play.”
While Donarski and Joens are more highly rated recruits, Emily Ryan, ranked No. 70 in the nation, could have the most important role on the team next season of the incoming freshmen.
The 5-foot-10 Ryan is a point guard and a playmaker — a position Iowa State struggled to find consistency in last season.
Rae Johnson and Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw were the primary ballhandlers for Iowa State last season and each ended the season with over 80 turnovers.
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Ryan, a native of Claflin, Kan., was the consensus player of the year in Kansas. She averaged an absurd 30.6 points 6.1 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 5.1 steals and 1.5 blocks last season en route to her third state championship. Her team went 79-0 in her three state championship runs.
“Emily is one of the top point guards in the country,” Fennelly said. “She is a winner in every sense of the word. Emily knows how to lead and run a team which allows her to impact success at both ends of the floor.”
Kylie Feuerbach is the final piece to Iowa State’s recruiting puzzle. Feurbach is listed as another guard at 6-foot-0 but Fennelly believes she can be moved around the floor in different positions.
Feuerbach, who hails from Sycamore, Ill., was a teammate of Joens’ on the All-Iowa Attack, which won the national title at the Nike EYBL Tournament. Feurbach hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the championship game.
“Kylie is a tremendous athlete who has achieved success in many sports in high school,” Fennelly said. “Now that she will focus on basketball I have no doubt she will impact our team in many ways. Kylie’s length and versatility will really give us many options in how we use her.”
Notably, Iowa State didn’t sign any post players, but Fennelly has been playing small for a while now and appears to have no problems continuing to play small.
“I could not be more excited to add this class to the Iowa State Women’s Basketball family,” Fennelly said. “Our goal in the 2020 recruiting cycle was to add perimeter players and we did exactly that with this group.”