Iowa State women’s basketball looks to replace production, excited for the 2017 season

Iowa State junior Emily Durr shoots a free throw against Kansas State. Durr would score a team high 21 points in the loss in the Big 12 tournament.

Garrett Kroeger

The Iowa State women’s basketball team had its own version of a big three last year.

The trio featured Jadda Buckley, Bridget Carleton and Seanna Johnson. All three combined for 60.5 percent of Iowa State’s total points last season (1,385 out of 2,289). But entering the 2017 season, only one of them returns for the cardinal and gold.

This off-season, Buckley and Johnson both departed due to graduation, leaving Carleton as the lone big three member returning. However, Carleton returning is a “God send” as senior guard Emily Durr put it.

“I wouldn’t trade Bridget Carleton for any player in the country, and I mean that,” said coach Bill Fennelly. “Every coach probably says that. Bridget is the leader of our team. Bridget is someone who, you are talking about an unanimous preseason all conference last year and postseason all conference player, first team.”

Fennelly went on to say that almost every coach believes that if their team’s best player is their hardest worker, they have a chance. And he made it clear that Carleton is the Cyclones’ best player.

“It’s not even close,” Fennelly said. “Bridget Carleton is the hardest worker on this team. She is the best player on this team.”

However, one player does not make a successful team.

Despite losing Buckley and Johnson, Fennelly knows Iowa State has the capability to replace their production. He doesn’t have the answer yet, but there are a lot of players to choose from.

The first player that came to Fennelly’s mind when it came to replacing Buckley and Johnson was junior post player Meredith Burkhall.

Through her first two seasons in Ames, Burkhall has been in an unfair situation. She has been thrown in against the Baylors and the Texas’ of the world when she was still learning the college game. But from last spring to now, Burkhall has made the most progress in Fennelly’s eyes.

This off-season, the coaching staff has challenged Burkhall to create offensive rebounds more often, demand the ball while she is down in the post more and some other things defensively.

“I have told our kids and my staff, when we have had very good teams, here anyway, there has always been a surprise,” Fennelly said. “[Burkhall] can be one of those people. When you don’t have that positive surprise, then it goes the other way. I have complete faith in [Burkhall] and what she’s done.”

While Fennelly believes Burkhall will have a big season for the cardinal and gold, he also believes the newcomers will make an impact.

Freshmen Madison Wise, Rae Johnson, and Kristin Scott were all highly touted recruits coming out of high school and JUCO transfer Bride Kennedy-Hopoate was the No. 1 rated JUCO prospect from All-Star Girls Report. Fennelly expects all of them to play a lot this year for Iowa State.

“We lose a lot offensive star power, but these young girls have a thirst to work hard and they work hard in every drill and practice,” Durr said. “Like coach Fennelly said, we traded in some talent but gained a lot in leadership, integrity and personalities you want on the team. It’s going to be different, but it’s going to be exciting.”

Iowa State will need the newcomers to pick up the system quick because it needs to throw out five players come Nov. 10 against the South Dakota Coyotes.

“No, [Carleton] and [Burkhall],” Fennelly said. “It is like the baseball playoffs. To be determined, game decision or whatever.”

If the Cyclones had a game tonight, they would have a staff meeting right before and discuss who they would start.

Every year is different. That is one of the good things about college sports. People graduate, newcomers come in and roles change. But Fennelly’s job and Iowa State’s goal has always stayed the same: put a team on the court that Cyclone fans enjoy watching.

Entering this year, Fennelly believes he and the rest of his staff will accomplish that goal despite the massive departures of Buckley and Johnson. And he is ready for the season to start.

“We are very excited to get started,” Fennelly said. “This is a fun time of year.”