Fritz’s toughness will be key in matchup against Kansas State


Daniel Jacobi II

Denae Fritz attempts to strip the ball away during the game against Oklahoma in Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 28, 2023.

The No. 12 Cyclones are looking to extend their winning streak as they prepare to face off against a Kansas State team that is hungry for a big win.

Iowa State was the most recent Big 12 team to feast on a big-time win, as Hilton got a treat when the Cyclones battled through a tough win against No. 14 Oklahoma. The Sooners were sitting at the top of the Big 12, tied in record with the Cyclones.

After the dust cleared, the Cyclones would sit at the top of the conference. They also moved up six spots in the AP rankings.

The confidence the team has found in recent weeks has helped Iowa State overcome the struggle of life after Stephanie Soares. However, Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly made it clear in the postgame press conference that confidence shouldn’t be confused with swagger.

However, one player brings enough swagger for the team to have the confidence to continue winning.

“The word swagger was brought up. That’s not a word associated with our team, but it is with Denae,” Fennelly said. “Our team needs that.”

Just like the rest of the team, Denae Fritz has been gaining more confidence by the day. Fritz had another big game against Oklahoma, scoring 14 points and knocking down key threes to keep the Cyclones rolling.

Fritz was also coming off a strong outing against TCU and seemed to be doing everything but slowing down. That’s what the Cyclones expected of her when she got to Ames, and that expectation became more crucial as the lineups started to switch around.

“When [Soares] got hurt, I think she’s smart enough to look around and go, ‘okay, I gotta play a little different,’” Fennelly said. “It’s happened at both ends of the floor.”

Fritz’s biggest impact hasn’t been on the offensive end of the floor, although she can hit shots when she needs to. Fritz has been dominant on defense, adding more versatility to an already suffocating Iowa State defense.

Fritz has been tasked with guarding tough opponents in the Big 12 and doesn’t shy away from the challenge. She is one of the most physical and toughest players on the court, and it shows in her production on defense.

In the last meeting with Kansas State, Fritz kept Gabby Gregory to a quiet night when Gregory was the Big 12 leading scorer at the time. Wednesday’s matchup may be another chance for Fritz to lock down Gregory, who is still at the top of the Big 12 in points, sitting behind only Ashley Joens in average points per game.

“Her defense this year has been unreal. I think that’s something that goes under the radar,” Emily Ryan said.

Fritz isn’t the only menace on the defensive end of the floor. Lexi Donarski, last season’s Big 12 defensive player of the year, has looked as good as ever.

The combination of the two has spelled troubles for Iowa State’s opponents every game in Big 12 play. When Fritz and Donarski are on point, teams struggle to knock down shots or get anything flowing on offense.

“When you have two really, really good defenders, it gives you some flexibility,” Fennelly said.

The strong defense translates to strong offense, where Fritz gets the chance to ignite the crowd at any given moment. It has become a trademark of Fritz to have some choice words and get to trash-talking whenever one of her big shots falls.

The energy and edge that Fritz brings to the game give the team much-needed energy in big scenarios.

“She likes to chirp a little bit, which is fun. It brings a lot of energy to our team and everyone,” Ryan said. “When she hits a shot or something, she’s always got something to say.”

When the shots are falling, Fritz is talking.

That chirping isn’t just during games, as Fritz tends to be competitive any time she has the ball. Fennelly said that Fritz is constantly giving the scout team hard times.

Fritz can get competitive to the point that sometimes Fennelly makes the scout team play all out to win when usually they have to hold back a little. With any challenge, Fritz takes it head-on.

Although most kids make plays and move on, Fritz has a little more fun with things. Occasionally, she heats up and Fennelly said, “she’ll probably have a comment or two for them.”

“I just think I get emotional in the game and I get excited,” Fritz said. “I think when I hit big baskets like that, it gets the whole team and the crowd going as well.”

Those big baskets will come in handy as the Cyclones finish out the Big 12 schedule. Going forward, the Cyclones are taking it one game at a time.

Although the Cyclones came out on top in the last meeting, home court advantage won’t be a factor this time around. The Wildcats also use a zone defense, which the Cyclones have struggled against so far throughout the year.

“That’s the nature of this league. We just have to have the maturity to prepare the right way,” Fennelly said.

Iowa State is set to play Kansas State at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Manhattan, Kansas. The game will be streamed live on ESPN+.