Three Big Takeaways: Cyclone women wrap up a special day for Iowa State


Jacob Rice/Iowa State Daily

Maddie Frederick celebrates on the bench during the Cyclones’ 78-71 win over UT Arlington in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 18, 2022.

Aaron Hickman

For the first time since 2010, the Iowa State women’s basketball is program is headed to the Sweet 16.

Defeating No. 6 seed Georgia 67-44 following Friday’s nail-biter against UT-Arlington, the Cyclones were able to flip the script and dominate from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

Putting the cherry on top of a special day for Iowa State basketball, both men’s and women’s, the team will now head to Greensboro, N.C., to take on the No. 10 Creighton Bluejays.

Flipping the script

In Friday’s narrow win over UT Arlington, the Cyclones were on upset alert for essentially the entire game. On Sunday, they were sure to prevent that from happening again.

Switching to a zone defense in an attempt to neutralize the Bulldogs’ size advantage and throw them off their game, the road team committed three turnovers early on in the first quarter.

Taking advantage of the mistakes, Iowa State came out scorching to an 11-0 lead slightly under halfway through the frame. The lead was 23-7 at the end of the first.

“Georgia’s a really talented team, so it really all started with defense,” Lexi Donarski said. “We had to set the tone, especially defensively, really early, and that pushed us forward on offense.”

Iowa State Head Coach Bill Fennelly said the team’s demeanor was different than Friday night, and that everyone was much more loose leading up to this game as opposed to the first round.

Dominating the game from start to finish, it looked much more like the Iowa State team that had played so well at Hilton up to this point.

“All I did tonight was, I said to them before the game, ‘you’ve earned the right to be here, you’re a very, very special team, this is your last chance at Hilton, enjoy every second of it and let’s just go play’,” Fennelly said.

A special day

The Iowa State women’s basketball squad is headed to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2010, and Sunday also marks the first time since 2000 that both the men’s and women’s teams have made it through the first two rounds.

With the men’s game wrapping up as the women’s game was getting started, the videoboard at Hilton Colisuem provided look-ins to the tight finish in Milwaukee. 

Sneaking peeks up at the scoreboard while trying to secure a Sweet Sixteen berth of their own, the team believes the atmosphere around everything Iowa State on Sunday was special.

“When you hear the crowd going crazy in the middle of a timeout, there’s really no other option other than our guys are doing pretty well,” Emily Ryan said.

For Fennelly, it goes deeper than that.

Having been in Ames for nearly 30 years, he often talks about what he believes separates the Cyclone faithful from the rest.

Acknowledging the crowd for the turnout while spring break is coming to a close and the men’s team was a manageable drive to Milwaukee away, Fennelly once again displayed his love for Iowa State.

“This is a unique place,” Fennelly said. “It really is, with unique people, fanbase, administration. Anytime Iowa State is on a national stage like this, the biggest sporting event in the world in my mind, and both teams are doing what they’re doing, that advertising would be really expensive to buy.”

If this is it…

Ashley Joens has maintained that she will make her decision to leave or come back for another year after the conclusion of this season.

Still, when she checked out to a standing ovation late in Sunday’s victory, Iowa State fans gave the senior star plenty of love with her next year’s situation uncertain.

One thing that is certain, though, is that the Cyclones are still dancing, and Joens is a big part of that. 

After taking over the game against UT-Arlington in record-breaking fashion, Joens continued her trend of knowing when to take a step back and let players like Donarski and Ryan do their thing.

Scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 boards while Donarski and Ryan scored 20 and 15, respectively, her impact on the game remains even when she doesn’t have to score as much to secure a win.

“When you have a team that’s led by Em, Lex, Ash, sometimes you just get the hell out of the way, and that’s what I tried to do today,” Fennelly said. “Sometimes you can tell the look in their face says: ‘I’m ready to go’, and those three were ready to go. I think the whole team was because of those three.”

Now heading to the Sweet 16 for the first time in her career, the lights will be even brighter. 

Whether it’s a parting gift or something that she’ll hope to repeat, the program’s all-time leading scorer reached a new height on Sunday night.

“She’s earned a national profile,” Fennelly said. “It’s gotten bigger as time has gone on, but she plays at Iowa State. She doesn’t play at Stanford or UConn or South Carolina, so people are like: ‘eh, she’s a good player, she plays at Iowa State.’ Well, now she’s put her team in the Sweet Sixteen, and that’s a great thing for her.”