Chemistry key for women’s basketball in 2021


Members of the Iowa State women’s basketball team huddle together for a promo video at media day Wednesday.

Aaron Hickman

Following a season in which then-freshmen Lexi Donarski, Aubrey Joens and Emily Ryan played a combined 77.1 minutes per game, the continued growth, trust and experience will be a key factor in how this season plays out for the Cyclones in 2021.

Similar to last season, there are plenty of new faces that will play a role, as well as returning players who will receive increased playing time. Something that should help the process is the fact that everyone on the team does a good job bonding with one another.

“We definitely have really good team chemistry,” senior Ashley Joens said. “We all hang out together, whether that’s at practice or after practice, and we all love being together. That definitely helps us build that chemistry and get to know each other, not only as basketball players, but also as people, which builds that trust. I think the coaches kind of build that as well through the recruiting process and then once we get here.”

Head Coach Bill Fennelly said it’s a good thing to have both starting guards back in Donarski and Ryan and one of the best players in the country returning in Ashley Joens. However, there will still need to be production coming from players that have yet to significantly produce on the court for Iowa State.

Freshman additions to the team include Denae Fritz, Mary Kate King, and Maggie Vick. Fritz and Vick, both from Tennessee, figure to earn some playing time this season.

Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw started 23 out of 29 games for Iowa State her freshman year and was named to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team, and she believes her experience can help her teammates get acclimated.

“My leadership steps in since I did play as a freshman,” she said. “Just helping them know the plays, and it is harder when you’re an underclassmen so I think I’ve gained that experience and I can help out the younger players with that.”

The aforementioned Donarski, Ryan and Aubrey Joens also gained plenty of experience in their freshman seasons and will be able to help guide their new teammates. For Aubrey, getting to play with her older sister helped make the transition easier.

“Getting to play with Ashley has been a really good experience,” she said. “I learned a lot from her last year, and I’ve already learned some this year.”

Sophomore Nyamer Diew and senior Beatriz Jordão are two transfers with experience which should make an impact. Redshirt junior Morgan Kane, who averaged 8.5 minutes per game last season, should spend significantly more time on the floor this year.

One thing Fennelly and his coaching staff have shown time and time again is that they are willing to trust newcomers, with last season being a great example. Despite the amount of talent returning, this year’s newcomers will still be very important in determining the 2021-22 season’s outcome.

“I think we all have a really good relationship with our coaches, and they do trust us a lot which is huge,” Espenmiller-McGraw said. “It allows us to figure things out and still have that good coach-player relationship.”

The trust between the coaching staff and the players has been a continuous strength for this Cyclones squad, and that strength should only continue to grow.