Making strides: Junod practices with ISU

Jeremy Gustafson

Erica Junod’s attempt at a comeback took a positive step in the right direction Tuesday.

The injured guard practiced with the team for the first time in 12 weeks, since she tore her anterior cruciate ligament in practice on Nov. 5.

“I think everybody is excited to have her back,” ISU head coach Bill Fennelly said. “She’s worked so hard to get to this point.”

Junod, who had been working out with the team, said that getting back into action was a “heart-pounding” experience for her.

“I was doing stuff . as an individual,” she said. “It was just a matter or getting in there with other people and making contact.”

The sophomore said that her knee felt good making cuts and stops in the lane.

“I remember [ISU forward] Mary Cofield just kicking my butt down the court,” Junod said. “But I’ll get to the point where I’ll get back.”

Junod played mainly on the Cyclone scout team, but also made an appearance with the regulars toward the end of practice. Still she is unsure of when she will be putting on a game uniform and playing with Iowa State.

“Right now, tentatively I have no idea,” she said. “It all depends on how my knee wants to react to practice. After that I guess we’ll see.”

Teammates were also excited to see Junod back.

“After she got injured, we hoped so much she would be back, but we couldn’t hold on to that too much,” point guard Lindsey Wilson said. “So now it’s just like a bonus. We’re 15-5 without her, and with her coming back, we’re only gonna get better.”

Junod will see her doctor on Monday to talk about her progress.

Her coach was willing to give her an early evaluation.

“I thought she looked really good,” Fennelly said. “If you haven’t played competitive basketball for two and a half months, not many people could come out and do the things she did today.”

But Fennelly couldn’t get too wrapped up in hopes of a Junod return, the team still has work to do while she is on the bench, starting with Missouri at 7 p.m. tonight.

“You could fill up the whole newspaper with reasons this is an important game for us,” he said.

No. 16 Iowa State, coming off a 82-71 win at Nebraska, will be looking for its first Big 12 Conference win streak. In the process, the Cyclones could improve their 3-5 conference record (15-5 overall.)

Missouri sits ahead of Iowa State with a 3-4 record and is 12-6 overall.

“We haven’t played well in back-to-back games for a long time,” Fennelly said. “I think we played real solid in the Nebraska game. Now it’s time to find the next gear that all good teams have down the stretch.”

But the Cyclones can expect the Tigers to bring their A-game, something they routinely do when they play Iowa State.

“Missouri is a very good team, they’re right on the bubble of the Top 25,” Wilson said. “They gave us two good games last year.”

Last season Missouri nearly upset the Cyclones in Hilton Coliseum. Led by Amanda Lassiter’s 21 points, the Tigers pushed the Cyclones to the limit.

Tracy Gahan’s basket and free throw late salvaged a 68-67 win for Iowa State.

Fennelly said he isn’t upset to see Lassiter, now with Houston of the WNBA, gone.

“I don’t want to see her again. I think she’s a great kid, but I don’t want to see her,” he said. “She was as tough a match-up for us as we’ve had. They still have a good team, at least she’s not here, I’ll worry about somebody else.”

Cyclone opponents may have someone new to worry about soon, too, if Junod stays on track.

“Maybe I was reading things into it, but I was pretty encouraged,” Fennelly said.