Joens and the Iowa State backcourt earn various Big 12 honors


Daniel Jacobi II

Ashley Joens smiles as a foul is called against Oklahoma during the game against the Sooners in Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 28, 2023.

Payne Blazevich, Sports Reporter

Ashley Joens was at the Sukup Basketball Complex, surrounded by the coaching staff when she learned the news. Joens opened the box of a cookie cake presented by the coaches that read: “Congratulations Ashley on Big 12 Player of the Year.”

“I kind of knew,” Joens said, who was told that she would need to pick something up from assistant coach Billy Fennelly before she babysat his kids Monday night. “It had to be something, otherwise he wouldn’t have given me an exact time.” 

While the big news wasn’t kept much of a secret, that didn’t make the announcement any less historic. Joens became the second player in program history to earn Big 12 Player of the Year honors. 

She added the title to a number of other individual accolades over her five-year career. Along with Joens, other Cyclones received recognition following the regular season Monday. 

“I think, a great way to end an amazing career,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said, regarding the significance of the award. “If you’re the player of the year in the Big 12, that’s a pretty impressive honor.” 

Joens, who joins former Cyclone guard Bridget Carleton, was able to achieve player of the year honors after a regular season where she averaged 21 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. She was also selected as a unanimous All-Big 12 First Team player for the fourth time in her career.

She leads the Big 12 in offensive production, ranking first in the conference for scoring and third in rebounding. Joens was the main driver behind Iowa State’s strong finish to the season, going for at least 20 points in the last six games.

When center Stephanie Soares suffered a season-ending ACL injury midway through the season, Joens upped her production to keep the Cyclones afloat. 

“To play the way she played, with that kind of expectation, especially after [Soares] got hurt, for her to continue to do what she’s done,” Fennelly said. “It’s a great honor for her.” 

Along with Joens, each other member of the big three earned Big 12 honors Monday.

Junior guard Emily Ryan was named All-Big 12 Second Team after averaging 10.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game. She achieved All-Big 12 honors for the second consecutive season, reaching First Team All-Big 12 status last year.

She was joined by junior guard Lexi Donarski, who received an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention and All-Defensive Team honors. She became the first Cyclone to receive All-Defensive Team honors multiple times. 

Redshirt freshman Denae Fritz was a newcomer to Iowa State’s award pedigree, having been named to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team after her first full season. Fritz averaged 8.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, slowly improving as the season progressed. 

“I hope this is the start of a lot of things,” Fennelly said. “If the highlight of her career is that she’s on the All-Freshman team, she didn’t do her job and I didn’t do mine.” 

Iowa State’s backcourt has been saddled with a number of personal accolades accumulated during the 2022-23 season, but the Cyclones haven’t been focused on the awards. As the team prepares to take on Baylor Friday to open the Big 12 tournament, their focus has been on the postseason. 

“Truthfully, I’m not too concerned about that type of stuff, I’m more worried about winning in March,” Ryan said. “It’s an honor to be recognized, but that’s never the reason we play or our biggest focus, so we’re just focused on winning games.”