‘All of us have to step up’: Iowa State adjusts in its first game without Soares


Daniel Jacobi II

Nyamer Diew high-fives her teammates while her name is announced before the game against Kansas State in Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 11, 2023.

Payne Blazevich, Sports Reporter

No. 15 Iowa State bounced back from its first Big 12 loss, taking down Kansas State 67-56 Wednesday night. The team found a way to adjust in its first full game without senior Stephanie Soares. 

Iowa State lost a key piece of its season-long gameplan when Soares went down with an injury against No. 17 Oklahoma Sunday. A subsequent MRI revealed an ACL tear, cutting Soares’ season short and leaving the Cyclones without the same level of size and scoring potential down low. 

But in response, the team changed the game plan, and players stepped up to replace her production. 

“There’s always things everyone can do better, but it’s gonna fall on the next wave of kids,” head coach Bill Fennelly said before the matchup. “If we’re gonna have any success, I mean, Denae (Fritz) has got to play better.” 

Fennelly said it was the responsibility of other players to fill the stats that Soares normally accumulates on her own. Playing attentive and perhaps a little angry, they did just that. 

Fritz responded with a career-high 14 points and seven rebounds. She was aggressive on both ends of the floor, playing efficiently on offense while limiting the offensive impact of Gabby Gregory, who leads the Big 12 in scoring. 

“That’s the Denae that we know was there and the Denae we have to have now,” Fennelly said. “She was as good as she’s been since she’s been at Iowa State, and hopefully, that’s a great springboard for her moving forward.” 

Fritz’s ability to produce on offense and defense helped ease the hole left by Soares’ injury. She had been hearing that she needed to step up all throughout her second season with the Cyclones, but when the team needed, she was able to make an impact.

Nyamer Diew attempts a three during the game against Kansas State in Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 11, 2023. (Daniel Jacobi II)

“I think (Fennelly) has been on me about that for like, the beginning of the season. But yeah, obviously we step up, all of us have to step up as a team and replace the minutes that (Soares) played for us,” Fritz said. 

Junior Nyamer Diew, who was also mentioned by Fennelly, put up 8 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes played. Diew’s increase in minutes is the result of an Iowa State remedy plan in the absence of Soares. 

The Cyclones have opted to take a small ball approach, playing with five guards instead of a specified post player. Her 29 minutes topped her previous season-high, set while filling in for Soares against Oklahoma Sunday. 

Diew’s versatility allows her to fill whatever need the Cyclones have. She can defend any position on the floor, while finding offensive scores inside the paint and behind the perimeter. 

“She’s a very valuable part of our team, but obviously now that value has increased exponentially,” Fennelly said.

Without a post presence on the floor, Iowa State had to rely on more shots from behind the arc. The Cyclones connected on 10 triples, led by junior Lexi Donarski with four. 

Iowa State has struggled with the three-ball at times this season, but in their first game without Soares, 3-point shooting drove the offense. 

“I think that all of us hitting some threes, which we struggled to do in some games in the past, I think knocking some down really helped us gain momentum,” Donarski said. 

Iowa State will have to play different styles depending on the particular matchup any given night. But in their first full contest without Soares, the Cyclones found a way to adjust.