Notebook: Middleton named starting point guard

Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly reacts to a call during the Cyclones’ 79-68 win over Texas Tech on Wednesday night. The win moved the Cyclones to 14-11 (5-9 Big 12). 

Spencer Suckow

Coach Bill Fennelly spoke to reporters at women’s basketball media day on Monday. Here are a few highlights from the press conference.

Alexa Middleton will start at point guard

Following her transfer from the University of Tennessee in 2017, and subsequently sitting out all of last season due to NCAA transfer rules, redshirt senior — and former McDonald’s All-American — Alexa Middleton will be the Cyclones’ starting point guard going into the 2018-19 season.

Fennelly made the announcement during his press conference Monday, and said that despite not playing a minute yet for Iowa State, Middleton has made a noticeable impact on the team.

“She’s a point guard of what we like,” Fennelly said. “Tough-minded, high basketball IQ, can score, and I think in a short amount of time she’s gained the trust of her teammates.”

Fennelly did acknowledge concerns regarding the fact that Middleton hasn’t played a competitive basketball game since March of 2017.

“She’s done a great job up to this point,” Fennelly said. “I think she’s been a great fit that impacts out team dramatically, and a player that our fans will enjoy watching.”

After that, there’s plenty to decide

Along with Middleton, Fennelly said sophomore forward Madison Wise and senior guard Bridget Carleton would be starters if the season started today.

After that? It gets a little murky.

Fennelly did provide a few hints, specifically pointing out players like freshman guard Ashley Joens, junior forward Adriana Camber, senior graduate transfer forward Ines Nezerwa and senior forward Meredith Burkhall, as players who will have an track to earn those final two starting spots.

However, Fennelly also pointed out that who comes off the bench may be more critical to the team’s success than who starts the game.

Fennelly mentioned that in recent practices, 12 players on the team have seen a significant amount of reps due to the quality of the team’s depth. This means that finding the right lineup combination might be the head coach’s biggest challenge to begin the year.

“It’ll be one of those teams that I don’t know that the starting lineup will be as big a deal as how we manage,” Fennelly said. “Learning what that next group is and who comes off the bench, when they come off the bench and who they come off the bench with, might be more important for us this year than it’s ever been.”

Team bonding

No matter who comes off the bench for the Cyclones and when, chemistry certainly shouldn’t be an issue for any of the players.

Players describe the team as a very “close-knit” group, and all of them got the chance to get even closer to each other during a trip to Costa Rica in August.

It was only the third time the women’s team had done a tour of a foreign country, with the last trip being to Italy in 2014. The Cyclones played three exhibition games during their weeklong trip of the country, and the team also got the chance to do some volunteering mixed in with vacation-type activities,

“Obviously we’re very lucky that at Iowa State, we’ve always been allowed to do the things beyond the court,” Fennelly said. “I think when you take a team on the road and it’s the first time they spend time together away from their comfort zone, it’s a good thing.”

That doesn’t mean that the trip came without its hazards, however. Fennelly said that some team members suffered minor injuries during the trip. Maybe not in the way one would expect, though.

“The weird part is, we had six stitches in a thumb, we lost a tooth, we had a couple sprained ankles and not one of them happened on a basketball court,” Fennelly said. “Ines lost a tooth surfing and Madison Wise was on a railing and cut her hand open and got six stitches. They’ll have a lot of stories.”

Luckily for the Cyclones, all affected players have made full recoveries from their ailments.