No. 19 Iowa State gives seniors an emotional and successful send off

Forward Meredith Burkhall looks for an open pass during the Iowa State vs Texas Tech women’s basketball game Jan. 29 in Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones defeated the Red Raiders 105-66.

Spencer Suckow

It remains to be seen if Monday night will be the last time Iowa State’s seniors take the floor at Hilton Coliseum, but if it was, they walked off winners.

The Cyclones locked up second place in the Big 12 by defeating Kansas 69-49 Monday on the team’s senior night. The game itself could be described, in kind terms, as a sloppy affair, where each team certainly looked like they played games less than 48 hours earlier.  

Actually, sloppy would be giving Kansas way too much credit. The Jayhawks made exactly one of their final 15 shots, and as a team had six assists to 18 turnovers. Iowa State was off most of the night and had 15 turnovers of its own and still won by 20. The Jayhawks, at least on Monday, were every bit as bad as their 2-16 Big 12 record would indicate.

With that being said, the win and even the Jayhawks themselves were secondary to what seemed most important to everyone involved with the Iowa State tonight: honoring three seniors in Bridget Carleton, Alexa Middleton and Meredith Burkhall. Three players who, in the words of their coach, completely changed the course of the program.

“The three seniors on this team have saved this program and probably saved my coaching career,” said head coach Bill Fennelly. “These three changed the culture back to the way it was supposed to be, the way we do things at Iowa State.”

Fennelly didn’t mention previous teams specifically, but Iowa State has had several up-and-down years throughout the decade and had lost its way in recent years.

Fennelly has had three losing seasons in his time as head coach, but two of those three season happened since the 2015, and basketball became less enjoyable as a result.

“My wife will tell you, if you don’t like it and you’re not having fun it’s time to quit,” Fennelly said. “And honestly I was getting close. I’m not kidding you, I was getting real close.”

However, Fennelly said that the Carleton, Burkhall and Middleton gave him a renewed energy and steered the team back on the path its been accustomed to. Not just on the court, he says, but away from it as well with their work ethics and attitudes.

As a reward, he let the three check out of the game with under two minutes remaining to receive one final standing ovation from a crowd that was just as appreciative as the head coach.

“Obviously playing our last regular season game here was really fun,” Carleton said. “Just getting that ovation, and coach was nice enough to do that. It was really, really special.” 

It was special, but it may not be the last ovation Carleton and the Cyclones get at Hilton Coliseum.

The NCAA selection committee released its top 16 seeds on Monday night, and the Cyclones were ranked No. 14 on that list. That means, as of now, the powers that be believe the Cyclones have done enough to earn up to two home games at Hilton in the NCAA Tournament.

That fact wasn’t lost on Middleton, who said it’s now up to the team to take care of business in the Big 12 Tournament to ensure they can keep, or even improve upon, the selection committee’s ranking.

“When you have a fanbase like we do at Iowa State, (home tournament games) are a complete advantage,” Middleton said. “I know that this team has so much more left to play. We’re wanting to come back here and play two games in the NCAA Tournament.”

Middleton’s message appears to be universal amongst the entire team.  The NCAA Tournament is around the corner, and the Cyclones, based on recent performances, appear locked in and ready.

But the team isn’t so locked in that they can’t take a moment to appreciate just how far they’ve come in only one year. Just as important as securing a win tonight, it seems, was looking back on everything that Carleton, Burkhall and Middleton did to make sure that they left Iowa State women’s basketball in a better place than they found it.

And according to their coach, they did just that. And that feat won’t be forgotten.

“This group has really gone back to way we try to do things and how we treat people and how we go about our business,” Fennelly said. “That’s how they’ll be remembered in the locker room.”