Three Big Takeaways: Iowa State wins season opener against Cleveland State


Jacob Rice

Ashley Joens shoots a free throw in Iowa State’s 66-60 win over West Virginia in the first round of the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship on March 11 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Christian Royston, Sports Reporter

AMES — Iowa State couldn’t ask for much better from a season opener, cruising past Cleveland State 87-54.

The Cyclones showed what’s in store for the new season, as every part of their game looked to be running smoothly. The defense was locking down every attempt Cleveland State put up, while the offense was scoring with ease.

Nerves seemed to be non-existent for the Cyclones, including Senior Ashley Joens, whose efforts saw her score nearly 30 points.

“It’s fun to get out there and actually play,” Joens said. “You can talk the talk, but we’ve got to be able to walk the walk.”

Who else but Joens?

Everything seemed to be going right for Joens on her first appearance in her final season.

In front of a roaring home crowd, including sections filled with her own students, Joens put on a dominant display of offense. 

“They were excited, it was fun just to have them here and I think they had a good time,” Joens said. “It looked like they were having a good time.”

Joens ended her day putting up 28 points on 50 percent shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers to add. She also tallied 11 rebounds and five assists, capping off her 50th-career double-double. 

Joens’ efforts were good enough to give her some resting time, as the team was far enough ahead in the final quarter. 

“She’s a kid that loves to compete, loves to play,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said. “The way they were defending her, the court opened up for her unlike it does in a lot of games.”

Joens played as efficiently as ever, taking advantage of every opportunity that came her way. Although shots weren’t falling as much in the second half, she still had the confidence to put the ball up.

Joens’ hard work during the offseason paid off and now the only thing she wants to do is keep moving forward.

“We played really well, and we can only go up from here,” Joens said.

Lockdown defense

Defense was the large focal point of the offseason for the Cyclones. To compete with the high-caliber offenses in the Big 12, defense would be crucial.

That offseason work came to fruition in the season opener.

Defense was on display throughout the entire game, with everyone doing their part to keep points off the board. Iowa State kept up the pressure, allowing Cleveland State to squeak out only 20 points in the first half.

The defensive effort that highlighted the first half dominance came in the final seconds. Cleveland State inbounded the ball and drove down the court desperately looking for scraps to leave the half with.

However, as the Viking guard got the ball past mid-court, Lexi Donarski and Nyamer Diew were in her face immediately. The combined effort of the Cyclones duo forced the ball free.

As the ball was rolling to the out-of-bounds line, Emily Ryan made a last-ditch diving effort at the ball and swatted it toward the middle of the court. Donarski had full confidence in Ryan making the play, as she was already in full stride as the ball made its way into her waiting arms.

Donarski knocked down the buzzer-beater layup to cap off the Cyclones’ dominant half.

“The first half, I thought we were as efficient on both ends of the floor as we could ask,” Fennelly said.

The Iowa State defense didn’t slow down a beat in the second half. Although the Cyclones let up more points in the second half, they were far enough ahead that they could test out different combinations of players. 

No matter who was on the court, if a ball went wide or bricked off the rim, an Iowa State player was there to battle for it. Three players ended the game with double-digit rebounds, including Denae Fritz.

“Rebounds have always been one of the top things that I like to prioritize,” Fritz said. “On defense, obviously just try to get stops when they miss and rebound it.”

After the game, Fennelly talked about how Cleveland State ran just a couple of the plays that were scouted by Iowa State. Before the game, the Cyclones practiced plays they expected to see in the season opener.

When the day came to play, those plays were nearly non-existent.

That lack of preparation didn’t appear to affect the defense one bit. The Cyclones were able to adapt to anything Cleveland State threw at them and lock down plays before they developed.

“They didn’t look at me and go, ‘those aren’t the play,’ they just figured it out,” Fennelly said. “That’s what good competitive people do. That’s life; sometimes you got to adjust, adapt and overcome. Defensively, that’s what I think our kids did.”

Going forward, if the defense can adapt to whatever is thrown at them, it could be a tough defense to stop. The ability to adapt is second to nothing in the Big 12, and Iowa State put that on display.

Not in Soares’ house

Getting a shot up against Iowa State’s defense proved to be a tall task all day for Cleveland State. It proved to be even harder when coming face-to-face with Iowa State’s new 6-foot-6 transfer, Stephanie Soares.

Soares ended the game with four blocks. Four blocks while only being on the court for 21 minutes. Nearly 10 minutes less than the other starters.

Soares came into foul trouble early in the game, keeping out of the entire second quarter. Although she couldn’t be on the court through the whole game, she performed when she was on the court.

Including four blocks, Soares put up a double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds. Soares’ presence on defense helped keep Cleveland State away from the basket.

Soares’ size and length were expected to be a huge asset to the team and looked to be the case against Cleveland State. She swallowed every Viking that came her way.

The first quarter showed off what she might bring to the table throughout the season. Soares scored the first points of the game, just as she did against Winona State, before getting a big-time block to keep the Vikings at bay.

Not long after, Cleveland State was driving the ball down the court looking to spark something on offense. Soares wasn’t going to let that happen.

A Cleveland State player went up for a shoot and Soares swatted the ball down. The Vikings got the ball right back and went up for round two.

However, Soares got her hands on the ball again, securing her second block of the possession. It’s clear that the addition of Soares will help the team as the season continues and she continues to dominate on both ends of the floor.

“I’ve been here… wow, a long time, but we’ve never had someone like that,” Fennelly said. “Ever.”