The ISU women's basketball team isn't look at this season as a rebuilding year, they're just reloading. The squad will return a total of seven players and add five freshmen to a team that finished the 2004-05 season with a 23-7 record and a berth in the NCAA tournament.

Even so, of those seven players, only three – senior Brittany Wilkins and junior Megan Ronhovde and Lyndsey Medders have played over 100 minutes during the Cyclones' 30 games last season.


"We have more numbers from 1 to 5," said ISU head coach Bill Fennelly. "We're more talented than we've ever been, but when you look at the amount of minutes points rebounds that [the team has] achieved at the Division I level it's a pretty small amount. So they're capable and hopefully we can have some early success.


"So far they've shown there's something special there and if we can keep them motivated and just our big thing this year is get a little better every day and that's what we talk about. I [really think if] those kids if they get a little better every day they'll be pretty darn good."


This team has a whole different feel than a year ago, when upperclassmen were abundant on the squad.


Then seniors Anne O'Neil, Katie Robinette, Mary Fox, Lisa Kriener and Tracy Paustian provided two-thirds of the teams offensive output, with O'Neil, Robinette and Fox all averaging double-digit points per game.


A season ago anything less than a trip to the NCAA tournament would be a disappointment, the Cyclones were coming off an 18-15 campaign and an appearance in the Women's National Invitational Tournament final four and returned a mother load of experience.


The Cyclones started out hot, matching its best start in school history with a 15-1 mark, winning its first five conference games. During that stretch, they held a 12-game winning streak, which was second best in the nation.


When it was all said and done the Cyclones finished with a 23-7 overall record, a tie for third place in the Big 12 Conference and an unblemished 15-0 record at Hilton Coliseum.


Iowa State was rewarded for their play with a berth in the NCAA tournament, the No. 7 seed Cyclones earned a date with the 10 seed, the Utah Utes in Fresno, Calif. After leading by as many as 15 points in the first half, the Cyclones were overpowered in the second half eventually falling 73-61.


This definitely isn't last years' squad, Fennelly said this team has a whole different feel.


"Obviously we have a lot of new players, so I think it's a totally different team," Fennelly said. "I've always been a big believer that every year you start over. I mean everyone has to understand that. I hope what we build on is really the legacy the seniors left. We had a down year we came back and got in the NIT, got in the NCAA Tournament.


"I hope they build and remember the effort of the senior class and the commitment they made and the kinds of things it takes for our program to be successful; those are kind of vague and intangible things that don't mean a lot to a lot of people but that's what we have to build on because the names and the faces are going to be a lot different than last year."


It's also different on a personal level for the head coach, on June 10th Fennelly had a cancerous lesion removed from his left vocal cord and had a second removed on August 9th.


"I was lucky, very lucky this summer,' Fennelly said. "I got the stuff done I'm going back once a month [for check-ups]. I've been lucky the people were great. I was stunned by the amount of emails and phone calls, I definitely benefited from a lot of prayers from Cyclone fans and even some Hawkeyes sent me some stuff."


Fennelly said sometimes you get so caught up in stuff and something like cancer just puts everything in perspective.


"Sometimes you need to get smacked in the face, I got smacked in the throat," he said. "You start thinking about stuff that really is important and kind of refocus on the day-to-day stuff.


"I think between that and having a whole new team I think a lot of newness to every thing we're doing I have to be smart about my health. I do have a family to worry about and I have a whole new team that needs to be coached differently. It's not like starting all over but it's pretty close when you think about what we're tying to do and the long process."


So with that in mind and the life lessons learned, Fennelly takes each day as it comes.


"Every day is different," he said. "It is kind of fun on one hand and it's frustrating on the other. I like our approach so far, but it's a totally, totally different environment than last years team, which means we all have to understand that, especially Coach Fennelly. A little more patience would be good at times, but they understand what they need to do, now we just need to figure out how to get it out of them."


The Backcourt


The strength of the Cyclone squad will lie in its backcourt with the experience and leadership of Medders and Ronhovde. The two averaged more than 30 minutes a game last season and have been starting since their freshmen year.


Medders averaged 9.7 points and six assist, while Ronhovde added 9.2 points and 5.3 rebounds.


Fennelly said he told the duo they need to play like all-Big 12 players not only in games, but every day in practices too.


"They have to move from starter to star," Fennelly said. "Without Anne, Katie, Mary, Lisa and Tracy we lost quiet a bit and they can't make up all of that but they're going to have to make up a portion of that."


Being starters for these past two years have taught both players the level and mentality that they need to play with; Medders said that advantage is huge as the Cyclones head into this season.


"Every opportunity I have to play, whether it's a practice in Forker or a game at Hilton, it's a chance to get better, make my teammates better, and thus make our team better," she said. "Since I've been given a lot of chances to play, that has allowed me to go through some learning curves, understand Big 12 play, get to know the system, etc. And I've also played alongside great teammates who ‘showed me the ropes' and what it meant to put on a Cyclone jersey."


Behind Medders and Ronhovde the back-court is sketchy, newcomer Heather Ezell will see playing time but spent time during the pre-season in the hospital with a staph infection.


The Cyclones will be without Tegan Stuart, who was expected to play much more this year. The sophomore left the team in late spring to pursue other opportunities. She averaged two points per game and had 16 assists last season.


The frontcourt


The Cyclone frontcourt holds a lot of questions for Fennelly and staff, but he thinks he has some answers; he just doesn't know which answer goes with which question.


"I think Brittany is a big key because she is the only experienced post player we have, she's a fifth year senior and we need her to really step up and play at a high level with some consistency," Fennelly said. "I think she can do, she wants to do it. She's worked very hard it's just now you've got to go do it. The time for talk is over."


Wilkins played just under nine minutes per game and averaged 4.2 points while leading the Cyclones in field goal percentage, connecting on 61.3 percent of her shots a season ago.


Fennelly said sophomores Lisa Bildeaux and Seirra Dawson have had pretty good falls and are in good shape, but she hasn't played much more than the freshmen.

This is the year for the two to make their move.


"What I told [Seirra] and Lisa both was they have to go from just being happy to be here to wanting to have a part and wanting to play," Fennelly said. "A lot of young people go through that who were on a team and didn't get to play a whole lot. You kind of get lulled into ‘hey I'm doing the best I can and that's good enough.' You've got to find another level, another level of commitment and this is the year when we need them to do that."


Maybe the biggest question will be freshmen Rachel Pierson and Nicky Wieben and how much of an impact they'll make.


"I think probably right now Rachel Pierson's done all the things we thought she'd do," Fennelly said. "She'll definitely start for us and I think is someone who has a chance to be one of the better players we've had here. She's skilled and she's physical.


"Probably the kid that's surprised us the most is Nicky Wieben; she's had a great fall. She's in shape, she's athletic and she's gotten stronger."


Also look for freshmen Amanda Nisleit and Gillian Bjerke to push for playing time.


"Amanda is learning a new position and is probably still learning the speed of the game, but has really improved, her conditioning has really improved," Fennelly said. "I think she's someone we see improvement in daily, but again we're making her learn a new position so she should be the furthest behind.


"Gillian was off to a really good start but sprained her ankle. I like where she started, but she's going to have to start over [after missing some practice]."


Fennelly said he likes what he sees from his younger players, but he just worries about how they'll match-up against the stiff competition they'll face night in and night out in the Big 12.


"How can we handle Sophia Young and the Tiffany Jackson's?," Fennelly asked. "You look at the post players our kids will have to play against, they're some of the best post players in the country let alone just good Division I players. I don't think they'll back down from it, but they're will be some growing pains and I think the challenge for us will be keeping their spirits up. There will be times when things won't go very well for them because of lack of experience."


Opposed to other seasons this years Cyclone squad is post heavy, which means we'll see some different things offensively, including a more traditional game with two post players.


Defensively Fennelly said things are still being tweaked.


"It's hard to say [what we'll do] because we don't know what the freshmen can handle," he said. "We're still going to play switching man and a couple of different zones. I think we have to do what we've done and what we feel can give us a chance to win."


There will be some subtle differences on both ends of the court, but Fennelly said the casual fan will not notice a dramatic shift in how Iowa State wants to play.


Every season we see a breakout performance, last season it was senior Mary Fox, who will it be this time?


"I'd say right now it's been Nicky Wieben," Fennelly said. "I love her effort, I love her commitment; she wants to get better. Right now I'd say she's been the biggest surprise."


But Fennelly wants to be surprised again at the end of the season.


"I hope at the end of the year the answer to that question is Seirra, Lisa, or Brittany," he said. "Right now it's been Nicky but I think for this team to have any appreciable level of success it's got to be Britt, Lisa or Seirra at the end of the year. They have to be our Mary Fox and that's a great example."


As Iowa State heads into the season, last year's squad will still be an integral part of the teams' success. Tracy Paustian is a student coach and Katie Robinette is on the practice squad. Fennelly said they hope to have Fox join the practice squad during the second semester once she returns from studying abroad in Australia.


Fennelly said there's only one long term objective for his squad - to get better every day.


"Every day is going to different and literally it's like can we get a little bit better on Tuesday and on Wednesday," Fennelly said. "When we play let's play as hard as we can play and learn from it and move on to the next one.


"I think when you're looking to far in advance with a younger team it is way so imposing. I'm worried about are they doing good in school? They're not dying of homesickness so we have much bigger issues than looking at March. I just want to get to March, somehow get to March."

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