Iowa State women’s basketball: Freshmen to play key role in success for 2014-15


When Bill Fennelly’s 2014-15 Cyclones began practice last week, they did so returning four starters from last season’s 20-11 squad. However, one starter they lost was a big one — two-time honorable mention All-American and All-Big 12 first team forward Hallie Christofferson.

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Christofferson accounted for 84 percent of the points scored by post players last season, as well as 63 percent of the rebounds from post players on last season’s roster.

Super Sophomore Seanna Johnson, a member of the Big 12 All-Freshmen team last year, will pick up a good portion of those rebounds as she led the team with an average of 8.1 points per game – good enough for fifth in the league.  However, if the Cyclones are going to have success this year, they will have to rely on new faces playing key minutes in the post.

“If we were to play a game tonight, I really don’t know who would be in our starting five,” Fennelly said during media day. “We started Bryanna [Fernstrom] in Italy. She is big, strong, left-handed and hard to guard. Claire [Ricketts] is the skilled big on our team. She didn’t start playing basketball until she was a freshman in high school.

“Jordan [Jensen], Maddy [Baier] and Fallon [Ellis] are kids that have been in our program and understand what it takes to play here but have played very little.  What we need is every day one of those players shows up and can contribute.  It will be by committee.  We don’t have anyone who will play 35 minutes, but hopefully as a group we can find some people who can [make up for the minutes and points Hallie provided last season].”

Mar 23, 2013; Spokane, WA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Hallie Christofferson warms up before a game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the first round of the 2013 NCAA women. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Fernstrom, a McDonald’s All-American nominee out of Chicago Lakes high school in Minnesota, averaged 25.9 points and 13.4 rebounds, while blocking an average of 4.5 shots per game last season.

“The workouts over the summer are much harder than high school,” Fernstrom said in an interview with Clones Confidential. “To play in the Big 12 you have to play fast, so I have been working on that more than anything. I want to make an impact this summer and do my part to help our team.”

Ricketts stands 6-foot-3 and was also a McDonald’s All-American nominee out of Parker, Texas, named to the Dallas Forth Worth Top-40 Players to Watch list, finishing her career as the all-time leader in rebounds and second-most points. She had initially committed to Texas Tech before opening her recruitment after then coach Kristy Curry left for Arkansas. She had interest from Missouri, Purdue, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State before deciding on the Cyclones.

“The lack of depth was one of the major things that drew me to Iowa State,” Ricketts said. “I knew that Hallie [Christofferson] would be leaving and there would be early playing time.  I understand that I won’t be an All-American my freshmen year, but if I continue to work hard and help my team, I think I’m stepping into a great situation here. “

Due to the lack of depth in the front court, coach Fennelly joked about playing five guards this season. After speaking with associate head coach Jodi Steyer, that might not be as farfetched as people think.

“The thing with the five guards is that we just want to find our five best players and have them on the floor.” — Jodi Steyer

“The thing with the five guards is that we just want to find our five best players and have them on the floor,” said Steyer. “ That said, there is some size that we cannot counteract when playing defense with that scenario.  Coach Fennelly is a mastermind at defense, so it’s not going to be our young posts playing man-on-man against the best of the Big 12. We will try to cheat and help from different places, and may play more zone to collapse down low.

“The freshmen certainly give us depth this year. When we recruit them, we plan on them playing and they will have every opportunity this year.  Last season we didn’t have a deep bench and were one injury away from being devastated, so they will provide some great depth for us this year.”

“It’s interesting because in years past we had experience in the post and our guards were young. Now we have experience on the perimeter and our posts are young.  So we are going to rely on those young post players to play.”

“This year it’s not about the pressure being put on me, it’s about leading the right way — that’s on the court and off it.” — Brynn Williamson

With Christofferson gone, second team All-Big 12 returning point guard Nikki Moody, senior Brynn Williamson, and the other returning players are going to have to do a lot of hand holding, and teach the young freshmen on the run as they prepare for the 2014-15 season beginning in two weeks.

“Before heading to Italy we were limited to only ten practices so the seniors have been great, said Ricketts. “They have been able to help us figure out where we need to be in certain situations.”

“The pressure for leadership is a good thing,” said Williamson. “This year it’s not about the pressure being put on me, it’s about leading the right way — that’s on the court and off it. That’s making shots, cheering for my teammates. That’s listening to what [Coach Fennelly] says and reiterating it to the girls.”

“It’s been interesting because we are all from different areas of the country,” said Ricketts. “So it’s been interesting watching everyone’s background in how they act and react to certain things.  It’s also interesting in that we all play a different position, so we could technically all play at the same time. We all have a different roll on this team so it’s going to be very interesting to watch us grow over the next couple of years.”

The Cyclones are going to need the freshmen to grow and learn quickly, but the building blocks are set. They may take their bumps and bruises this season, but fans are going to look back on this class in four years with admiration to where they’d taken the basketball program, and how they represented the university.