Cyclones Look to More Balance

On one hand Iowa State has lost do-it-all point guard Lindsey Wilson, but Bill Fennelly team should return a more balanced cast of players to the court this season. Anne O'Neil and Erica Junod have put serious knee injuries far in the rearview mirror and are gearing for banner campaigns, while post player Lisa Kriener has emerged as a threat inside.

That was the message given by ISU's head coach at Tuesday afternoon's media day. Fennelly enters his ninth season in Ames with a remarkable 174-75 record, but is hungry to erase memories of a 12-win season.

"I think the points from this team are going to have to come from every single person that plays," he said. "That sounds kind of silly, but we don't have a star player. We've always had a go-to player in the past, but don't this year. But we may have five games and in each of those you may see five different leading scorers. We have to find a way to score easier baskets. Every basket we scored last year would be like getting a tooth extracted. We didn't get any easy baskets. We have to score better on the block. We have to be a better free throw shooting team.

"When a kid scores 31 out of 35 points in the second half, sometimes that's not the best way to win a game. This team all feels like they can do it. Even the freshmen will tell you they want that chance. Whether or not you can go out and do it against good players is the challenge."

O'Neil is the most likely person to emerge as the Cyclones' leading scorer this winter, as she finally returned to form late in the year after an offseason knee injury. The Illinois transfer and the former Miss Basketball in the state of Iowa averaged 10 points a game and started in 22 of 28 games in her first season in Ames.

Although true freshman Lyndsey Medders is the most likely to assume the starting point guard role, O'Neil will settle into the two-guard slot while spelling Medders at the one.

"Anne relishes the role of having high expectations," Fennelly said. "I don't know if she ever got in complete shape last year and in the flow of the game. But she's someone that is going to have to score. At the end of the season she was scoring in double figures for us. She's got to find a way to make shots. She's going to be an additional ball-handler, and will have to improve defensively a bit. She's going to play point guard or off guard for us."

ISU also stands to have more balance between the front and backcourts, as Kriener should be more improved after starting 25 games as a sophomore and averaging 9.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. In fact, Fennelly believes Kriener to be the most improved from one season to the next.

"Lisa has had the best fall of anyone on our team," he said. "She is in phenomenal shape. You watch her run and you can't believe it. She can run with anybody on this team. She's in her third year, is older and more mature. She understands now what we need from her. We have to do a better job of moving her around.

"I think she has the capability, at some point, of being an all-conference player. She has those kinds of talents and skills, and has shown them at times. The challenge for her is to be more consistent, that her lows aren't too low and highs aren't too high. She also has to rebound better and make more free throws."

But despite the overall strength from returning players and a talented freshman class highlighted by Medders, Megan Ronhovde and Megan Ebel, the Cyclones still face an uphill battle in contending for a postseason bid.

The Big 12 features three title contenders in Texas Tech, Kansas State and Texas, and the Cyclones are hoping to break into the first division. This after playing a non-conference slate that includes the likes of Wisconsin, Washington and Virginia Tech to go along with a trifecta of instate foes.

"Every team goes into a season hoping that you can play in the postseason," Fennelly said. "I don't know if we can or not. I think our schedule puts us in a position where if we win enough games, we're going to be in a postseason tournament. This is not a team that can win the Big 12. I'm not going to say that's possible, because I don't think it is. Can we win the Big 12 Tournament? Maybe. We have three teams in our league that are going to be in the top 10.

"The challenge will be getting through the preseason doing the best you can and win the games you're supposed to win and steal a few games along the way. Hopefully we stay healthy, because we don't have a lot of room for error, injury-wise, and then try to get to 17, 18 or 19 wins kn owing that the first and second rounds are here."

The Cyclones open exhibition play on Nov. 9 against Minnesota State, before opening the regular season at Cleveland State on the 22nd.

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