YEAR IN REVIEW: Iowa State women prove predictions wrong

During the postgame news conference after the 74-36 loss to Connecticut, it looked as if senior guards Denae Stuckey and Alison Lacey were going to be able to hold back the tears that normally come during these conferences.

But when they were asked their thoughts on playing the final game of their careers, neither coach Bill Fennelly nor either of the players he had coached for the past four years could hide how emotional of a moment it was for all of them.

The season was over for the Cyclones and the dream of making it to a Final Four would have to wait at least one more year.

But looking past the lopsided loss to the eventual national champions, the season was no doubt a special one that would be remembered as the season the women’s basketball team defied the “experts” and refused to listen to how they were supposed to be this season.

They were too young. They have no inside presence. They won’t be able to score.

These were some of the most common predictions for the Cyclones this season. Most polls had them finishing no higher than sixth in the Big 12 after reaching the Elite Eight the year before.

After losing many standouts of the Elite Eight team to graduation, Fennelly had his work cut out for him putting together a team of mostly inexperienced players and getting them ready to play in one of the nation’s toughest conferences.

While preparing for the season, one of the biggest decisions came from Lacey. The team’s captain chose to stay at Iowa State and begin working with her team over playing for the Australian national team last summer.

Freshmen Anna Prins, Amanda Zimmerman, Jessica Schroll and Chelsea Poppens arrived at Iowa State being asked to take over for a depleted lineup.

Needless to say, the freshman class put together arguably one of the best inaugural seasons since the Big 12 was formed.

The four players combined to score 843 points and haul in 533 rebounds this season. A promising start for a group of freshman that few believed would make an immediate impact on the team.

Despite the popular belief the Cyclones would not be a contender, the team was able to catch all the Big 12 and national polls off guard by defying the odds and making its way into the national rankings.

Led by Lacey and a determined freshman class, the Cyclones headed into the NCAA tournament with a 23-7 record, including an 11-5 conference record, good for second in the Big 12.

Iowa State had little difficulty against its first-round opponent, Lehigh. Led by a double-double from Prins, the Cyclones made easy work of Lehigh, 79-42.

The Cyclones’ second-round game was against upstart Green Bay, who had upset Virginia in the first round of play. It would take a dramatic comeback and a 3-pointer from junior guard Kelsey Bolte to seal the second-round victory for the Cyclones. This win would send the Cyclones to their second consecutive Sweet 16 game against eventual national champions Connecticut.

Entering the game, the Cyclones were not really given much of a shot against the Huskies. And despite a week’s worth of anticipation, the Cyclones struggled to keep up with the Huskies.

Junior forward Maya Moore hit five 3-pointers and that would prove to be costly as the Huskies drained the Cyclones 74-36, ending the season for Iowa State.

Despite the eventual loss to Connecticut, the Cyclones had much to be happy to about. The team successfully went against what the “experts” thought would happen and proved why it was not a team to be taken lightly.The future continues to look bright as the Cyclones will return most of their starters but will ultimately need to find a replacement for Lacey.

This past April, Lacey became the first Cyclone to ever be drafted in the first round of the WNBA Draft. Lacey was selected by the Seattle Storm, cementing her legacy as one of the greatest Cyclones to ever play at Iowa State University.

It was a season few expected except for the coaches and players. It may have ended with the seniors and coaches shedding a few tears but not because the season ended the way the team expected. Rather is was because it reminded the Cyclones of how hard they worked to get where they finished.

And that is what made this a season to remember.