Fennelly: Seniors Playing Huge Role

The 24th-ranked Iowa State women's basketball team is back on the national scene, in a big way, this season. Thanks to senior leadership and great balance, the Cyclones have started Big 12 play 3-0 and are now 13-1 overall this season. CycloneNation.com caught up with head coach Bill Fennelly Thursday morning after he and his team returned home from Kansas.

CN: Why don't you start by telling us what some of the factors are for the team's current hot streak?

Fennelly: Obviously, we're ecstatic about the way things are going and the way that we're playing. I knew we had a chance to be a really solid team, and our kids have taken that to another level up to this point. Every single kid on this team who returns is a better player than they were last year, to their credit.

We're getting great leadership from our seniors, and I think that's been the biggest the key. They've played great and done all the things off the court. This has been the easiest team to manage in my 10 years at Iowa State, as far as their approach every day and how they want to do it.

CN: Do you think the importance of that strong senior leadership can go unnoticed sometimes?

Fennelly: I think it can. Sometimes people forget how competitive this league is, and Division I basketball in general. People figure you just win at home and lose on the road. Sometimes we get brainwashed into that stuff.

I've got the right seniors. Seniors can be your best asset or your worst. They need to be all in, because if they're not there are going to be distractions. Sometimes they want to just get it over with. Fortunately for us, we have five seniors that are living every day like it's their last as a basketball player at Iowa State. They're not only doing it this year, but leaving their mark for what should be expected.

CN: How much of a factor is the balance of this team playing in success?

Fennelly: The struggles we had last year were not on defense, they were on offense. Even last night, we were up 24-9 and went through a stretch where we had trouble scoring. But it wasn't because we were turning the ball over and not running our offense. We just missed them and shot 36 percent for the first half. But it wasn't the same feeling at all, like last year.

We have a lot of people that can score, and had four players in double figure last night and five the game before. We have seven or eight people that can go out and give us double figures any night. You add the seniors and growing experience of Lyndsey Medders and Megan Ronhovde as sophomores who have basically started since the day they walked on campus.

Offensively and defensively we're balanced. We have multiple lineups we can go with, so we have a lot of options. There are things we need to do better to play at a higher level, but we have great faith in the kids we're playing. We continue to rotate. The balance is in our defense and the people who have the ability to make shots. All good teams have that.

CN: Talk about the consistent inside-outside game with Anne O'Neil, Mary Fox, and Katie Robinette.

Fennelly: If you wanted me to give you reasons why we're so much better, I'd think number one is the fact Anne O'Neil has been tremendous. There is no player in our league playing any better than Anne is right now.

The other thing is the games of Mary Fox and Katie Robinette is at a whole different level. Katie's game is at a whole different level than it was last year. She's in shape now and had the whole preseason to get ready. She's a dynamic scorer, is athletic, and gives us an athlete presence we haven't had. Mary Fox has shot the three well and her defense has improved immensely.

There isn't a player on this team I'm more proud of then Mary, because she's been a role player that I've been very hard on since she's been here. She's been as good a player as we've had from game one, and she had always been a second-half kid for us. Those three have been the catalysts of where we are right now.

CN: When you looked at the Big 12 schedule at the beginning, are you even surprised at where this team is right now?

Fennelly: We looked at the schedule and have to go to Baylor, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech. When you look at those three, the other 13 games are really important. We've always liked to break the season down into groups. I told our kids we needed to play the first six games as hard as we can play, because they're all against teams in the North Division. I really felt that was a key to us, those first six.

Knowing you have a top-25 team out of the gate, go back-to-back out on the road, and come out of that 3-0 is pretty big. I don't know if I'm surprised where we are, but I'm pleased and excited. There are only three teams left in the Big 12 that are undefeated, and two of our three wins are road wins against divisional opponents.

CN: Looking back on when this winning streak started – after the team's only loss of the season to the Hawkeyes – is there something that started clicking for this team following the trip to Iowa City?

Fennelly: A couple of things, we changed our lineup after the Iowa game. We played a terrible first half and Iowa just totally out-played us. But we played a great second half and made a great run at them. We finished the game on a very positive note, then came back to practice and talked about what we needed to do as a team.

We turned around and had the biggest week of our season after that. We took care of Wisconsin and Drake easily, then won a hard-fought game at UNI. That totally galvanized what we're all about and where we could go. It took off from there, and we had a good win in Vegas. We've stood up to some pretty good challenges up to this point.

CN: You have been the head coach of some special teams in your tenure at Iowa State. Although it's still early in the conference season, do you get a sense this squad could be another one of those?

Fennelly: You're right, in the sense that it's early to talk about that. But this is a special team, regardless of what their record ends up being better or worse then some of our other great teams. This is truly a special team and special group of people. They want to leave their mark on the history of Iowa State women's basketball.

I'm confident that we'll play well and we'll be a team that goes out every single game and competes, no matter who we play against. I think the challenge is to play some important games in February, which means you're getting ready to play in March.

CN: It sure has to be a good omen that this team will be returning to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament.

Fennelly: I'm so happy for our seniors that they get to go to Kansas City. We'll have a great fan base. Probably the most exciting week of my professional life was when we won the Big 12 Tournament, and the guys turned around and won it the next day. That whole week, it cost me a lot of money, but it was worth every penny.

It was worth every penny, because I've never had more fun and been more proud to be part of anything in my life than I was that week. The focus of the basketball world was Iowa State that weekend, and we'd sure like to see it happen again. We'd like to bring back some of that Hilton Magic South.


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