Fennelly’s freshmen come in with high expectations


Noah Rohlfing

It won’t take long for the incoming freshmen on the Iowa State women’s basketball team to make their voices heard this season.

They’re expecting to have an instant impact.

Coach Bill Fennelly has brought in a highly-rated group of freshmen this year to refresh his squad. With guard Rae Johnson, forward Madison Wise and center Kristin Scott coming in, the new Cyclones provide depth positions of need and new, dynamic options.

That’s good news for a team that has many questions to answer and a lot of production to replace.

The Cyclones’ recruiting class of 2017 was ranked 27th in the country by Prospect Nation, with two of the three recruits ranking in their top 100.

Johnson, a point guard from Albertville, Minnesota, was ranked 91st in the country coming out of high school.

Scott, a center out of Kasson, Minnesota, was ranked 96th in the country.

Wise, a Greenfield, Indiana native, was rated as a five-star recruit by ESPN and was one of the most highly sought-after wing players in the nation.

All three freshmen were rated as, at the very least, four-star recruits by multiple organizations. That raises the question:

Is this Fennelly’s best recruiting class at Iowa State?

Fennelly stopped just short of saying that, but during his press conference at media day he spoke very highly of his new players. It’s clear that this class is already making a strong impression on the 23rd-year head coach.

He also mentioned that they should be expecting to contribute this season.

“They’re all going to play,” Fennelly said. “They’re all going to play a lot. It’s as good a group of new people that we’ve had here in a long, long time.”

The players expect to be worked hard by Fennelly and his staff, but are looking forward to learning. Scott, who will likely back up junior forward Meredith Burkhall, thinks that the preseason practices are crucial.

“We’ll be worked hard, because they know what we can do,” Scott said. “This whole month is going to be tough, we have a long way to go.”

Scott averaged 24.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game her senior season in high school, and with her ability to step out and play in a similar fashion to Burkhall, she will be able to learn the role from the two-year starter.

She could make a difference in a front court that has been lacking a second option.

Scott might also make an impact as a shot blocker, having blocked 433 shots during her high school career. That averages out to just over 108 blocks per season. Comparatively, last season junior guard/forward Bridget Carleton led the Cyclones with 31 blocked shots.

If she can replicate even half of her high school output, the Cyclones will have found a much-needed interior defensive presence.

When it comes to making an impact, Wise is ready to do whatever it takes to win, whether it’s as a ball handler or out on the wing.

Wise averaged a double-double last year, scoring 23.5 points and grabbing 10.1 rebounds per game in her senior year for Greenfield-Central High School.

Her scoring prowess can be of great use to a Cyclones team that lost two of their top three scorers from last season to graduation.

As for Rae Johnson, the starting point guard role being up for grabs is a big boost. The top prospect in Minnesota, she averaged 2.9 steals per game during her senior season, and she has a chance to make an instant contribution defensively.

Her ability to create her own shot from an offensive perspective is something that the Cyclones will need at the point guard position.

The importance of the camaraderie that the Cyclones have displayed so far, so early in the season, is not lost on the freshmen. Each of them have expressed the importance of adjusting to their new roles as student athletes and making friends with teammates.

They know the hype behind their arrivals and have responded with a sense of confidence and a feeling of togetherness.

Johnson is confident that her class can help the Cyclones take the next step.

“I think we can go pretty far,” Johnson said. “We’ve had pretty good team chemistry even though we’re young and it’s early.”

Fennelly believes the freshman are practicing well and are “ahead of schedule” at this stage of the season.

“They’ve hit the ground running,” Fennelly said. “Their effort’s been good and their hearts are in the right place.”

“We’re really lucky to have them all.”

Whether they take the Cyclones to postseason glory or not, Iowa State’s freshmen have already made a positive first impression.