NCAA berth rewards women’s struggles

Matt Gubbels

After a season filled with adversity and injuries, the ISU women’s basketball team was rewarded for its hard work and perseverance Monday night with an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.

The Cyclones (20-12) will take the short drive down Interstate 35 to Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines and take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets out of the ACC at 11 am on Saturday.

“We put in a lot of work this season to be in this situation,” said freshman Kelsey Bolte.

Coach Bill Fennelly said seeing Iowa State on screen was just a great sense of relief after waiting through a long day.

“This is the first time we have been waiting to know whether we’re in the tournament or not,” Fennelly said. “There are a lot of teams in this tournament who are great teams but I don’t know if there’s a team who earned it more than this team earned it.”

Iowa State is in the Greensboro region, which was the first region announced by the crew on ESPN’s exclusive NCAA Tournament women’s basketball selection show. Sophomore point guard Alison Lacey said she was talking to juniors Amanda Nisleit and Heather Ezell and almost missed it.

“We turned around and everyone was cheering; we were like oh that’s us,” Lacey said. “We weren’t expecting it that soon.”

The Cyclones received the seventh seed in their region and will take on the tenth-seeded Yellow Jackets (22-9). The winner will go on to face the winner of second-seeded Rutgers and 15th-seeded Robert Morris. Former Iowa coach C. Vivian Stringer leads the seventh-ranked Scarlet Knights and will return to Iowa for the first time since her time in Iowa City.

“To see our name up on the screen, I don’t think it mattered who we were playing or where we were at,” Ezell said. “It was just exciting to see us in the tournament.”

Fennelly said the seed just determines who gets to wear the home jersey.

“It’s more about how you matchup to teams,” Fennelly said. “They could’ve seeded us 64th and they could have given us the Houston Rockets and it wouldn’t have mattered. I’m just glad we get to play.”

There will be two other games in the regional at Wells Fargo. They will consist of sixth-seeded Ohio State against 11th-seeded Florida State and the No. 3 seed Oklahoma State and No. 14 East Tennessee State out of the New Orleans region.

“It’s great for central Iowa and for Wells Fargo; there are a lot of good teams coming,” Fennelly said. “If you like basketball and you like March Madness, it will be a lot of fun for people to go to Wells Fargo and watch those games.”

Lacey said it will be great to be playing so close to Ames, which none of the other seven teams get to do.

“Wells Fargo has been good to us,” Lacey said. “Some of us have played there in state tournaments and we like it there.”

The Cyclones will be taking on a Yellow Jacket team in the first round that leads the nation in blocked shots and steals. They play a full-court pressing style that is similar to the one Iowa State saw twice when they played Texas A&M. Georgia Tech’s roster is not loaded with tremendous size, but it doesn’t need that with the style they play. They are led in scoring by Janie Mitchell at 16.7 points per game.

Fennelly said the Cyclones reaching the NCAA Tournament shows has a lot of meaning, especially with having to fight through season-ending knee injuries to post players Nicky Wieben and Toccara Ross.

“As coaches we always talk about athletics as a metaphor for life,” Fennelly said. “It says to our players that you don’t have to feel sorry for yourself;you can make something out of every situation.”