Royston: Don’t be surprised if the Cyclones shock the world


Daniel Jacobi II

Morgan Kane and Denae Fritz chest bump during the game against TCU in Hilton Coliseum on Feb. 25, 2023.

Christian Royston, Sports Editor

Let me first start by taking you back to the end of last season. 

The Iowa State women’s basketball team is coming off its best season ever and looks to be making a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Texas and Baylor might be the only hurdles that could possibly stand between the Cyclones and a national title.

However, Iowa State’s hopes of seeing a historic season through to the end come to a screeching halt at the hands of Creighton in the Sweet 16. Not Texas. Not Baylor.

Don’t get me wrong, making the Sweet 16 is no small feat and should be considered a success of a season, but with the hype around the Cyclones at an all-time high, the loss felt a little disappointing. 

Now fast forward to this season. 

The Cyclones picked up a new player that might just change the trajectory of the team. Stephanie Soares. A 6-foot-6 defensive monster with a clean jumper that can fall from anywhere on the court. 

Soares looked to be the real deal as the Cyclones powered through nearly every team that stood in their way. She was doing everything we hoped she would do and more.

Soares was the type of player who could put up 20 points with ease and then turn around and get over 20 rebounds the next game. I mean she was basically averaging a double-double.

But all good things must come to an end, and in Soares’ case, that end came sooner than expected. Iowa State’s road trip to Norman, Oklahoma easily changed the course of the entire season.

I won’t lie. When Soares went down early in the game, clutching her leg, my heart sank. I sat in silence the entire time just praying it wasn’t a bad injury.

Then the verdict came. A torn ACL. 

That was it. The end of her season and her collegiate career.

It felt like the worst way for her Cyclone career to end. After that injury, the Cyclones came away from Oklahoma with a loss, and I genuinely believe if Soares didn’t go down, they would have swept the Sooners.

Since that game, Soares has flooded the headlines. 

“What are the Cyclones going to do without Soares?”

“Can the Cyclones win now without any size on their team?”

“Where will the Cyclones’ season end up now?”

“Is that it for Iowa State’s hopes of a deep tournament run?”

I’m not going to say I can predict the future, but looking at what Iowa State has done without Soares, it’s safe to say that the Cyclones are going to be all right. 

For starters, the Cyclones avoided getting swept by any team in the Big 12. A feat that has never been done in program history.

That included wins over both of Iowa State’s kryptonite in Texas and Baylor. Not to mention the win on the road against Baylor was only the third time the Cyclones have ever won in Waco, Texas.

The Cyclones also have most of their losses on the road. Home-court advantage will most likely not be a factor as the tournament season rolls around.

Not only were the Cyclones’ losses mostly on the road, but most of Iowa State’s losses have also been good losses. Or, as good as a loss can get.

The first two losses came on the road against out-of-conference opponents who were both ranked highly in the polls. North Carolina, who was top 10 at the time, and Iowa, who is currently ranked No. 7 and just took down No. 2 Indiana in an electric last-second win.

The Cyclones also lost to Oklahoma and Texas on the road, the two teams currently at the top of the Big 12. The last five teams the Cyclones lost to were Kansas State, West Virginia, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas. All NCAA tournament-caliber teams.

The recent loss to Kansas was a good outing from the Cyclones, but not many teams could have taken down Kansas Wednesday night. Iowa State had its highest scoring game of the year, but Kansas took that one step further and had by far its best offensive performance of the season.

Nine losses on the year may seem like a lot, but it’s more proof that the Big 12 is as tough as advertised. All things considered, it has still been a great season for the Cyclones. 

So why have the Cyclones done fine despite losing one of their best players early in the conference season?

Consistency. Not necessarily consistency of shooting and defense, but consistency of the team.

Looking at last season’s roster compared to this season’s current roster, one thing should come to mind. They are nearly mirror images of each other.

The Cyclones retained the same team that took them to the Sweet 16, except with the addition of another X-factor player in Denae Fritz. There’s a reason why I didn’t sweat one bit when it was announced that Soares tore her ACL.

All the Cyclones needed to do was rediscover their identity from last season. So far, it looks like they have done that.

The big three continue to dominate the court while seeing nearly 40 minutes of playtime each. Morgan Kane and Nyamer Diew have taken over the five-spot and had impressive outings each week. 

Even Fritz is balling out when she needs to. Fritz is coming off her best game of the season, putting up 26 points against a tough Kansas team.

The Cyclones look to be as good as they have ever been just in time for the Big 12 tournament, even with the loss to the Jayhawks. So with the basketball world starting to count out the Cyclones and predict them to finish middle of the pack, I’m going to hold out hope for a brighter future.

The Cyclones were predicted to win the Big 12 before the season, and if the cards fall in their favor, they definitely could. They have shown that they can hang with the big dogs and take down any team in the nation.

If the Cyclones start to gain momentum, they are going to be hard to stop. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cyclones still shock the basketball world.