Cyclones becoming one of the best in the nation

Jeremy Gustafson

Tennessee, Connecticut, Louisiana Tech, Texas Tech and . Iowa State.

Of the teams that routinely finish as one of the top 16 in the nation, the ISU Cyclones have made their names known; up there with some of the best teams in women’s college basketball.

When the Cyclones downed Florida State, 85-70, the team earned its third straight trip to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

“It’s not easy to get [to the Sweet 16],” ISU head coach Bill Fennelly said. “To do it the way we’ve done it, and I think we do it with class and dignity, representing our school and our fans – it never gets old. Never.”

“Knowing that we can get to the Sweet 16 three years in a row, it starts to put us in the leagues with maybe not the Tennessee’s and UConn’s, but up there,” senior Erica Haugen said.

Two years ago, the Cyclones upset No. 1 seeded UConn, 64-58, in the Sweet 16 and advanced to the Elite Eight, the only time in school history the team has gone that far – they lost to Georgia, 89-71.

Last year, the women faced Penn State in the Sweet 16 and fell one basket shy of advancing to the Elite Eight for the second year in a row as the Penn State won, 66-65.

This year, the experienced Cyclone squad is determined not to let last season repeat itself.

“We know what it takes to win,” senior reserve center Gintar‚ Cipinyte said.

She added that there is a lot of motivation to beat No. 3 seed Vanderbilt after the disappointment of losing last year.

“It’s not gonna be like messing around the first half and then suck it up in the next half,” she said. “It’s gonna be from the first minute to the very last. Yeah, [last year’s loss] that’s motivation right there.”

From last season to this year, the Cyclones have changed the roster adding point guard Lindsey Wilson to the starting lineup along with forward Tracy Gahan.

Despite the changes, the Cyclones have managed to tie last year’s total for most wins in a season.

“Lindsey just took the role of a leader right away,” Cipinyte said. “Angie [Welle] is playing great, Tracy, everybody is playing great. There’s nothing we could do about it. [Last year] is gone; we’ve got to move on.”

Fennelly said he credits his entire team for their effort in getting into the Sweet 16 again.

“To be in a position to get to the Sweet 16 three years in row is really an amazing accomplishment in modern day basketball,” Fennelly said.

“These young people have earned that right to be called one of the best 16 teams in the country. They’ve been the best people forever.”

The experience of going to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 for three straight years has been very special for Cyclone seniors Megan Taylor and Haugen.

Before the arrival of those two, the Cyclone women’s basketball team never won more than 17 games in a season.

Since Haugen and Taylor have been at Iowa State, the team has gone 104-27 winning at least 25 games in each of their four seasons.

Iowa State had only reached the NCAA tournament once before the arrival of Taylor and Haugen, where they lost in the first round to Utah, 66-57.

The two also finished their career at Hilton winning an incredible 62 of 64 games.

They have witnessed the Cyclones win their first ever Big 12 regular season conference title and have led the team to back-to-back Big 12 Tournament titles, most recently beating Oklahoma, 68-65, to earn the tournament title on March 10.

“For Megan and I, I think that we both feel a pride and accomplishment knowing that we have taken the program, so to say,” Haugen said.

Looking back, Haugen said that even though she expected that the ISU program would turn around, she was surprised that it happened so soon.

“I knew the program was on the rise and would get better, but I didn’t have any idea,” she said. “I never dreamed I would be playing in Sweet 16 games and stuff like that.”

Haugen added that the team’s goals don’t stop now and that reaching the Final Four in St. Louis is the ultimate achievement.

“Our goal is to try to get to the Final Four,” she said, “get past the Elite Eight, but we have to take it one game at a time obviously.”

Iowa State will get a chance to get one step closer to the Final Four when they take on Vanderbilt tomorrow night at 9:30 at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

“Everyone in the NCAA tournament this year is beatable,” Haugen said. “I really think that it’s anyone’s game from here on out.”