Women's basketball update

Under Bill Fennelly, ISU's women's basketball team has become a national power. However, duplicating last season's success with the loss of five outstanding seniors will be difficult. Here's how things look so far this offseason.

This will be Coach Steyer's fourth season with the cardinal and gold.  She was a four-year starter at Colorado State, and assisted Bill Fennelly at Toledo from 1989 until 1995 when Coach Fennelly left for Ames.  Coach Harris begins her ninth season as a Cyclone.  She played for Coaches Fennelly and Steyer at Toledo until 1994, and then played professionally for three years in Europe before rejoining her former coaches.

How have you and the players spent your summer thus far?
Coach Harris:  The players volunteered at our coaching staff camps this month (due to NCAA regulations they cannot be paid).

Steyer:  They can also work out with our strength and conditioning coaches and play pickup games on their own, but we're not allowed to arrange or watch them.


So your practices can begin...
Steyer:  …When the fall semester starts, and the (NCAA) rule has changed a bit this year.  In past pre-seasons, coaches could work with players only two hours per week with a maximum eight hours of total practice and conditioning.  This year we'll be able to work with them four of those eight hours.  It's nice to have the extra time, especially when we've got five incoming freshmen.  In mid-October we'll start our regular season practice schedule of 20 hours per week.

What will the freshmen bring to the team this season?
:  All of our freshmen are taking summer classes, so it's a nice jump-start for them to lift and get to know everyone.  Nicky Wieben is a nice player from Ankeny; she runs the floor well and will continue to get stronger.  Two are from Missouri; Rachel Pierson was very highly recruited; she's a lot like Angie Welle who we've had a hard time replacing.  Guard Heather Ezell was big in her state tournament.  She blew out her knee her junior year, so probably didn't get as many accolades as she should, but she's already made a real name for herself here.  We also have Gillian Bjerke who's a very athletic post player.   Amanda Nisleit has also played at post, but we hope to convert her to an outside position.  She has several family members that went to Iowa State, so she's got some Cyclone blood in her!
Harris:  The freshmen are all phenomenal from what we've seen.  They all come from excellent programs.  Nicky and Heather come from state tournament champion schools, so they know what it takes to win.

What, if anything, will change in your game plan in comparison to last year?  Will there be any new looks either on offense or defense?

Steyer:  We always want to play an up-tempo game and run the floor, and the new players will fit into our system well.  We play very much in the zone and have tinkered with man-to-man, and I think we'll continue to do that.
Harris:  Yes, we'll be able to mix in the man-to-man even more than last season.  We've got great athleticism this year and will be able to do more with younger legs.
Steyer:  It will be a similar game plan; we just need to get the freshmen accustomed to our style of play.  When Lyndsey Medders and Megan Ronhovde were freshmen, we told them they had to play like sophomores or juniors, and that's the attitude we're taking with the incoming class.

Harris:  Because we're young, the biggest thing we'll need to work on is our cohesiveness.  We're losing some shooting as far as last year's seniors, but we'll be able to handle it talent-wise; it's a matter of adjusting to the Big XII.  Losing Tegan (Stuart, who left to pursue a dual-sport career) was difficult from a defensive standpoint, but I think we'll be able to replace that.

Do you anticipate this year's team to meeting or exceeding last year's success (the women went 23-7 and made their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2002), or will there be different ambitions with a younger team?  Is there anyone specifically that will need to improve in order to meet your goals?
:  Our main goal is always to be a part of March Madness. When you make it to the NCAA tournament, it really says a lot about your program.
Steyer:   People will say that because we lost five seniors, it's a rebuilding year, but that's not how we think.  The team made improvements last season, so instead of winning 18 games, we won 23, and instead of going to the NIT, we went to the NCAA.  We're looking for that same thing this season.  Lyndsey's in the best shape she's ever been.  Megan is shooting threes and working on taking the ball to the basket.  Senior Brittany Wilkins has always been a main contributor and continues to get more solid.  Sophomore Lisa Bildeaux has gained strength and confidence... it's almost like seeing a different player than last season.  So really, it's not one person in particular.  Everyone needs to take a major step up like last year in order for us to succeed, but our girls aren't ready to take a step back.  They know what they need to do to get to where we were last year and to hopefully go beyond.

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