Guard-ed Optimism

After losing perennial All-American center Angie Welle and versatile inside-outside threat Tracy Gahan, Iowa State women's coach Bill Fennelly would like to make a request that would give his team a better chance in the 2002-03 season.

"Guard-wise, if we were playing in a 6-foot and under league, we might not lose a game," said Fennelly, who is faced with a transition year and no returning experience in the post. "There's no question that we're rebuilding some. I don't think there is anybody that's going to pick us in the top 25 or to win the Big 12. It's a different team and different challenge."

While the rules of basketball aren't likely to change anytime soon, it's the Cyclones' job to adapt and move on without the services of four-year starters Welle and Gahan, who combined to score 35.4 points and grab nearly 19 rebounds per game last season.

ISU's head coach mapped out his team's plan in Monday afternoon's media day at Hilton Coliseum. Although Fennelly will have a glaring lack of experience in the post, he does return four different players with starting experience and Illinois transfer Anne O'Neil who's fresh off a redshirt year.

Senior point guard Lindsey Wilson (19.1 points, 6.3 assists) is the clear-cut leader of a guard-dominated group of returners that includes Erica Junod, Mary Cofield and Tracy Paustian. Cofield, also a senior, averaged nearly seven points per game in his first year of Division I ball after transferring from NAIA power St. Ambrose.

Given the talented depth in the backcourt and glaring weakness inside, the Cyclones will play to their strengths.

"Our guard play will be very good," Fennelly said. "I wouldn't trade Lindsey Wilson for any point guard in the country. She's tough and knows how to win. This is her team now. I don't think anybody denies that. She grew with Stacy Frese, Megan Taylor, Angie (Welle) and Tracy (Gahan). Now she's the undisputed leader of our team and likes that role. She has wanted that in the past, but never really got that chance.

"You've got to have great guard play to win at any level. Look at Oklahoma's team last year. They didn't really have a true center and made it to the national championship game."

The addition of O'Neil and return to health of Junod, Cofield and Paustian means that ISU's backcourt will be much improved from a year ago. The high school player of the year in Iowa in 2000, O'Neil played her freshman season at Illinois and averaged in double figures at 11.1 points.

More importantly, the 5-foot-11 O'Neil has been cleared to resume playing basketball after suffering an offseason knee injury.

"She will be counted on a great deal and can play a lot of different positions," Fennelly said. "This kid has waited a long time to get back out and play. She stayed here all summer and rehabbed very hard, then had a good fall of individual workouts. She appears to be ready to go and is a big part of what we need to do.

"When you're trying to find a way to get 35 points that you lose with Angie and Tracy, Anne can definitely score. We're trying to find the best position for her, whether it's big guard or small forward. We don't really know that yet, but she's good with the ball and knows how to win."

In the post, Fennelly will try to get near the numbers he got from Welle out of two players, true sophomore Lisa Kriener and redshirt freshman Brittany Wilkins. Kriener is the only one of the two with playing experience, averaging 1.9 points and 2.7 rebounds last season in mostly non-conference action.

"It's going to be those two, but I think they both can do it," Fennelly said. "Lisa Kriener will start, no questions about it. You won't recognize her as a player or person. I don't know what she did over the summer, but I wish all of our players would do it. She's confident and her talent level and game is better. She's only 6-1, but at the same time can play bigger than that.

"The thing that I've talked to them about is that Angie Welle averaged around 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. We don't need to get quite that much production, but we need to get it out of two people. Lisa is not Angie Welle and doesn't need to think in those terms."

ISU opens the regular season on Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. against St. Francis (Pa.) after playing exhibition games against Johnson Financial and Northwest Missouri State.


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