Blazevich: Has Iowa State lived up to its immense preseason expectations?


Maeley Rosengren

Ashley Joens shooting a three at her final home game.

AMES – Head coach Bill Fennelly addressed the media in the practice gym at the Sukup Basketball Complex Oct. 10, ahead of Iowa State’s 2022-23 season.

Questions ranged from new additions to returning players and three-on-three offseason tournaments, but a central idea reigned supreme: the Cyclones were facing immense expectations. Iowa State was picked to finish first in the Big 12 media poll, and the Cyclones were ranked No. 8 heading into the season.

A little under five months later, Iowa State finished the season at the No. 3 spot in the Big 12 while falling just outside of the AP Poll after the final week of the regular season. Numerically, Iowa State failed to live up to its immense preseason expectations. But, is that actually the case?

The answer is: it doesn’t really matter at this point.

“It’s just been a long ride, and things aren’t always easy,” guard Ashley Joens said after Iowa State’s final regular season game against Texas Tech.

Everything was trending well for Iowa State at the beginning of the season. Despite a few disappointing losses in the non-conference slate, the Cyclones were consistently playing like a top-10 team in the nation.

But a road matchup against No. 17 Oklahoma Jan. 8 changed the entire trajectory of the season.

Grad-transfer Stephanie Soares, who earned NAIA player of the year honors twice at The Master’s University, suffered a torn ACL early in the first quarter of the game. Soares was one of the most important pieces to Iowa State’s 2022-23 roster because she provided size and physicality that the Cyclones had lacked the previous season.

Consequently, one of the team’s leading scorers was out and the gameplan needed to be adjusted. Instead of slipping, however, the Cyclones put together a string of excellent shooting performances, winning five of their next six games.

“If I had to describe this team in one word I would say ‘resilient,’” center Morgan Kane said. “When we get knocked down, we keep coming back up.”

After a stretch of wins, Iowa State has been prone to shooting slumps that have affected the team’s offensive output. An inability to hit shots has been the primary reason for the team’s periodic losses during the season.

Those losses cost the Cyclones a chance at a first-place finish, but critical wins have kept Iowa State in the conversation.

Without Soares, who was supposed to take Iowa State to the next level, things haven’t always been rosy, but when the Cyclones begin to struggle, someone ends up taking charge.

“We have games where we don’t maybe perform at our best, but the next game, we’re back at it again,” Kane said.

After returning the ‘Big Three’ of Joens, Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski as well as adding Soares in the offseason, Iowa State was tasked with following up a record 28-win season. As the team approaches the Big 12 Tournament, Iowa State sits at a 19-9 overall record.

But with the team’s surge at the tail end of the season, the Cyclones have more than enough momentum to go on a postseason run. Iowa State has weathered injuries and shooting slumps while still securing key wins over teams like Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor.

The Cyclones are not setting any win records this season, but in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, they are more than prepared to give any opponent a run for their money.