Orientation guide: What to know about women’s basketball

(left to right) Bridget Carleton, Alexa Middleton and Rae Johnson react to the Cyclone win against the Aggies. The Iowa State women’s basketball team won against New Mexico State 97-61 during the first round of the NCAA Tournament held in Hilton Coliseum on March 23. The Cyclones will move on to play No. 11 seed Missouri State on Monday, March 25 in Hilton Coliseum.

Spencer Suckow

If you’re a fan of basketball and raucous atmospheres, and enjoy teams with a history of high-level play, then you may want to consider taking in a Cyclones’ women’s basketball team.

Under the direction of head coach Bill Fennelly, the Cyclone women are consistently one of the better teams in the Big 12 Conference and a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament. Since Fennelly took over in 1995, the Cyclones have made the tournament 18 times. 

In its most recent season, Iowa State completed a resurgence that saw the team finish with its best record this decade. The Cyclones finished 26-9 on the season and 13-5 in conference play, good for second in the Big 12. The Cyclones also advanced to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, their deepest run since the 2012-13 season. 

There have been a few lean years, yet fans have remained undyingly loyal to the team. The team is consistently ranked in the top ten in national attendance, even with the team occasionally struggling through the latter part of the decade.

“We have the best fans in the nation,” said outgoing senior Bridget Carleton. “They’re so dedicated to us and they deserve us to play as hard as we can and as well as we can. We don’t want to ever let them down.”

This past year, the Cyclones certainly succeeded in that regard. Iowa State went 17-3 at home in the 2018-19 season, proving that Hilton Magic is still alive and well. When the team is playing well, Hilton Coliseum is one of the toughest places for opponents to play in college basketball.

Next season, the biggest challenge for the team will be replacing Carleton, who was just drafted No. 21 overall in the WNBA Draft by the Connecticut Sun and is arguably the greatest player in program history. Still, the team will return three starters and plenty of contributors to next year’s team.

When next season rolls around, fans will get to see whether last season’s success was a fluke. Though the team has had a losing season in two of the past four years, Fennelly’s history as a coach tells us that the team’s struggles prior to this season were likely outliers.

Fennelly certainly thinks thats the case, and he believes that the program is back where it needs to be. In large part, he credits the leadership provided by the team’s most recent senior class of Carleton, point guard Alexa Middleton and forward Meredith Burkhall.

If his belief turns out to be correct, new students can likely look forward to multiple years of high-level basketball during their time at Iowa State.

“This program is back where it needs to be because of the three seniors,” Fennelly said. “I can’t thank our seniors enough for restoring the Iowa State way and whatever happens moving forward, that will not change. I can promise you that.”