With the basketball season officially over and Connecticut's utter domination now complete - at least until November - we can finally set our sights on the next season of Iowa State women's basketball. It was a long March and an even longer season for Iowa State.
Immediately following their defeat to Texas Tech in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament, the Cyclones appeared ready to turn the page on a season that yielded just 13 wins. Iowa State didn't qualify for postseason play for the first time since 2003. Was this season simply an anomaly, or could more trouble lurk ahead for the program?
Recapping Last Season
The warning signs were there early for Iowa State. The Cyclones lost a close contest against Drake at the Knapp Center. Then, over Thanksgiving, Bill Fennelly's team found trouble in paradise in a Cancun tournament that produced just one win and an injured Bridget Carleton.
December brought an undefeated record that included a comeback victory against Iowa and a road win in the Big 12 opener. It appeared Fennelly was pushing all the right buttons and getting the most out of a team that often struggled to shoot the ball. No one, however, expected sophomore center Bryanna Fernstrom to depart from the team in early January. Once Fernstrom left, Iowa State became a squad simply unable to seriously compete in the Big 12.
By January, TeeTee Starks was already out for the year with a knee injury, and the Cyclones were working with a depleted seven-player rotation. Back-to-back overtime losses against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State were a sign of Iowa State's depth issues, and the losses undoubtedly left the Cyclones drained emotionally. After January 9, Iowa State managed to get just two wins - both against the Big 12's bottom feeders.
The Cyclones, who ultimately finished eighth in the Big 12, certainly aren't used to being in the conference cellar. But it's hard to argue the season was any more than a fluke that was filled with injuries and one major defection.
Looking Ahead to Next Season
Despite all the troubles from the past year, Cyclone fans have many reasons to expect Iowa State will bounce back in the 2016-17 season. Seanna Johnson, an All-Big 12 First Team selection, returns for a senior season that will undoubtedly involve a stuffed stat sheet every single game. Bridget Carleton, a member of the Big 12 All-Freshman team, will use the off-season to build on a strong first year in which she averaged 12 points per game.
Jadda Buckley, who played nearly 35 minutes per game last season and averaged over 11 points per contest, will play a vital role once again at the point guard position. With support from additional offensive weapons next year, Buckley is due for an exceptional 2016-17 season. TeeTee Starks will be back from her knee injury and provide much-needed depth.
Iowa native Meredith Burkhall showed promise the past year and averaged over eight points per game in her freshman campaign; the Cyclones need Burkhall to become more consistent on the offensive end to relieve some pressure on its guards.
Heather Bowe, a graduate transfer from Vanderbilt, will suit up in a Cyclone uniform for the first time next season. Bowe sat on the Iowa State bench last year and will already be familiar with the players and coaches. Her experience in the post and the SEC is a welcome addition for the Cyclones. Bowe started in 55 games during her time at Vanderbilt.
The infusion of international talent continues next season for Iowa State, with Aliyah Konate, a 6-4 forward/center out of Germany, and Adriana Camber, a 5-9 forward from Sweden, set to join Canadian Bridget Carleton on the Cyclone roster. Konate and Camber offer a wealth of experience on the international stage.
Konate will be a true post presence, and although her offensive game will need development, she should be an immediate contributor on the boards and on defense. Coach Fennelly calls Camber a versatile player who could play in any position for the Cyclones.
Nia Washington, a point guard from Stafford, Virginia, will also begin her career as a Cyclone next season. Washington adds vital depth at the point guard position. Her presence will ideally provide some relief for Jadda Buckley, who was offered few breaks last season.
In 2016-17, Iowa State should have much more flexibility with its rotation and an ability to rest tired players. Despite the challenges of the past season, the building blocks are in place for the Cyclones. Add in a summer of workouts and development, and fans should expect Iowa State to return to the top half of the conference and make it back to the NCAA tournament next season.