Fernstrom’s recent improvements boost ISU women’s basketball

Iowa State sophomore center Bryanna Fernstrom prepares to shoot a free throw during the game against Hampton on Friday night. The Cyclones won their debut game against the Lady Pirates 95-59.

Kevin Horner

No freshman basketball player wants to see a decline in statistics as her career progresses.

Typically, the freshman year is for becoming accustomed to the Division I level — dipping toes in the water before completely diving in. So it’s natural for young players to improve as they grow more experienced. This wasn’t the case for sophomore Bryanna Fernstrom last season.

“[Last year], she was like the stock market — really up and really down,” said head coach Bill Fennelly. “There isn’t maybe a harder thing to do than to play in the post as a freshman.” 

After breaking an ISU women’s basketball record — which was broken again this year by freshman Bridget Carleton — for most points in an ISU debut with 25 against USC Upstate last season, Fernstrom failed to match that productivity moving forward. Although she did have two more 20-plus point games, she could not find that consistency, that reliability.

During the first 10 games of her career, Fernstrom averaged 11.3 points per game. That number dropped during the next 10 contests as she managed 9.1 points per outing. The final 11 games, she averaged just 6.7 points, losing her starting role for the last five.

The negative trend carried into the 2015-2016 season, as Fernstrom again came off the bench in the opening two games, playing a combined 26 minutes. However, when the team traveled to Cancun, Mexico, for the Cancun Challenge on Nov. 26, Fernstrom’s year took a positive turn.

“[Fernstrom progressed] a lot, especially in Cancun,” said junior Seanna Johnson. “We roomed together, so I think that I was on her a lot. This is something that we want to bring back — [her] freshman year back. She said, ‘I got you.'”

Earning her first start of the season against Texas State in Cancun, Fernstrom tallied 25 points and 10 rebounds on 12-for-14 shooting — the second double-double of her career. Since that performance, Fernstrom has started in all four ISU games and has notched double figures in half of them.

These productive stat lines are more important to Fernstrom than some may think. Her main struggle so far has been with her confidence and mental strength, Fernstrom said. So, putting up numbers like she did against Texas State are essential to her progression.

“I feel like I can do that every game, and it’s just an in-my-head type of thing,” Fernstrom said. “I’m just inconsistent and unreliable, in a way. [So] it’s good for me to know that I can play that way.”

Fernstrom’s re-emergence came at an ideal time for Fennelly and his staff. After the win against Southern on Dec. 6, Fennelly said that he has been trying to use two post players at a time on a consistent basis, rotating between Fernstrom, freshman Meredith Burkhall and redshirt freshman Claire Ricketts.

Fernstrom’s recent improvements, along with Burkhall’s and Rickett’s continued development, have led to success in the post for the Cyclones. This was evident against Northern Iowa on Dec. 2, in particular, when Fernstrom and Burkhall combined for 26 of the team’s 84 points on the night.

“We’ve challenged [the post players] every day,” Fennelly said after the loss to UNI. “I think they’ve worked really hard at it. Three of the last four games, Bry has played reallly well — the way we need her to play. I thought [Burkhall] was huge tonight off the bench. I really thought our post kids did extra.”

Even after her career-high performance at Texas State, Fernstrom has continued to show some of her freshman inconsistencies. Just two games after Texas State, she managed only three points on 1-for-9 shooting in a 97-65 loss to Idaho.

But her teammates and coaches have confidence in Fernstrom moving forward. They believe that her hard work will pay off, and these off nights will become fewer and further between as this season and her career progress.

“She’s just playing hard,” said senior Nicole “Kidd” Blaskowsky. “Her defense has definitely resulted in offense. I think that if she keeps that up, and she keeps doing what she’s doing, she’ll make her name big in the Big 12. She knows what she can do. She’s not done. She’s not done.”