The Cyclones gift Bill Fennelly a win in his absence


Daniel Jacobi II

Emily Ryan tries for a layup during the game against Oklahoma State in Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 18, 2023.

Christian Royston, Sports Reporter

AMES — The Cyclones came out of their home matchup against Oklahoma State with a 69-64 win, but it was clear throughout the night the players were playing for a lot more than a win.

Earlier in the week, Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly shared on Twitter that his mother passed away. With how important family is to Fennelly, as it is a core value he instills in his players, it was tough for him to focus on basketball.

So, as the Cyclones geared up to take on Oklahoma State, Iowa State associate head coach Jodi Steyer took over head coaching duties in Fennelly’s absence. Even though the players would be playing under Steyer’s leadership, they knew the win would mean a lot to everyone, including Fennelly.

“We talked before the game, [and] this is what we wanted to give him,” Steyer said. “I’ve worked for him for a long time, and he doesn’t miss many. He’s never missed games, and I know what a tough week this has been for him. The people in that locker room, no one is prouder to be able to do something for him.”

Fennelly has been a foundation in women’s basketball for years and has turned Iowa State into a powerhouse basketball program in his tenure with the team. With all eyes on the Cyclones to see how they would handle the pressure, the Hilton crowd was behind them the entire way.

“It almost makes me emotional just thinking about why I couldn’t coach against him tonight because I have so much respect for him and what he’s done for women’s basketball,” Oklahoma State head coach Jacie Hoyt said.

As the Cyclones secured the opening tipoff, the scoring flowed like water–Emily Ryan with a three, followed by Kane with two and another three by Ryan.

The Cyclones had a lead, and they wouldn’t give it away easily. After a heartbreaking loss on the road to Texas, the Cyclones were expecting to play a physical game for the entire 40 minutes.

After the loss to Texas, Fennelly talked with the team and let them know giving up isn’t an option when facing a physical opponent. Even without Fennelly on the sideline, his words rang true in everyone’s ears.

“Coach Fennelly made a comment about being in the ring and being a fighter. Sometimes you’re up against the ropes and you gotta hold your ground and fight back, and we weren’t able to do that at Texas,” Steyer said. “We said here, we were gonna be the aggressors. We knew they were gonna take some punches at us, and we were always gonna just keep punching back.”

The Cyclones handled the pressure through the contest, overcoming early scoring struggles to keep Oklahoma State on the ropes. 

Early on, Iowa State dominated from the three-point line. However, Oklahoma State kept it close in the paint.

By the first media timeout, the Cowgirls were shooting 75% from the field and had 12 points in the paint to Iowa State’s 2.

Jodi Steyer walks off the court after serving as head coach against Oklahoma State on Jan. 18, 2023. The Cyclones won 69-64. (Tyler Coe)

That hot shooting didn’t last forever for the Cowgirls, as they cooled down to just 50% from the field by the second media timeout. Iowa State also nearly evened out the points in the paint to take a 6-point lead as the half came close to an end.

The shot that turned the tides for the Cyclones early on came from Nyamer Diew, who finished the game with 12 points. She sank a deep shot that was a hair inside the three-point line, putting the Cyclones within a score of the Cowgirls going into the second quarter.

After the half, it was all Iowa State.

The Cyclones were able to adapt to Oklahoma State’s physicality thanks to the work in the post from Morgan Kane and Izzi Zingaro. Both players have taken on their new roles in full stride after Soares’ injury.

“We play some monsters in the Big 12,” Steyer said. “For them to do what they did tonight and for them to continue to know what role they play, it’s really important.”

Kane set the screens, and Ryan took the points. The duo was all over the court on offense. Kane also fought for every rebound, finishing the game with 8 boards to go along with her 11 points.

Kane was one of many Cyclone players to contribute to the offense. Ryan played hard, constantly getting the Cyclones back in the game and creating momentum.

“You look at the stat sheet, and anybody that stepped on the floor had huge moments for us,” Steyer said. 

With time expiring in the third quarter, the Cyclones trailed by just one point. The Cyclones got the ball back with less than 10 seconds on the clock, and Lexi Donarski hustled the ball down the floor.

With the Oklahoma State defense scrambling to keep up, Donarski dished the ball to Ryan. With less than three seconds on the clock, Ryan put up a shot from beyond the arc that hit nothing but net. 

As the ball came to the ground, the Hilton crowd erupted and jumped to its feet. The Cyclones had a lead going into the final quarter and all the momentum on their side.

“I thought coach Steyer, along with the rest of the staff, did an incredible job–huge credit to them,” Ryan said. “I’m super happy for coach Steyer because I know it’s been really stressful for her as well. She gives her all to this program, and to see her get a win like that, it’s huge.”

Although Ryan was humble when talking about the presence that Steyer brought in Fennelly’s absence, Steyer was quick to praise Ryan’s leadership on the court. Throughout the game, Ryan acted as almost another coach to add to the pool of minds creating plays.

Ryan was given the opportunity to call plays on the floor and move the offense in ways that benefitted the Cyclones. By the end of the game, she had a team-leading 14 points and 7 assists.

With multiple coaches on the sidelines collaborating for playcalls and motivation along with Ryan, the Cyclones were able to adapt to any look that Oklahoma State threw at them. That helped the Cyclones shut down any run from the Cowgirls right when it started.

“We kinda talked about [how] when you’re a parent, the proudest moment is when [your kids] can do something without you standing over them,” Steyer said. “That was our goal; [it] was to let [Fennelly] know what he’s done for this team, and they wanted to give it back to him. I think they really did that.”

Fennelly may not have been there on the sideline, but he was in the minds of everyone on the team. As the final buzzer rang, everyone could breathe a sigh of relief. The job was done.

As the staff headed back to the meeting room, they huddled around a single phone to talk with Fennelly on the phone. The main emotion that came through was pride.

“I know it’s been a tough, tough few weeks and few months for them, so I just couldn’t be more happy to not screw this thing up,” Steyer said.