AMES, Iowa – One of the givens in college sports is change. Student-athletes exhaust eligibility and move on with their lives. Their school and their team remain. Each season means a different mixture of veterans and rookies.
Iowa State, ranked No. 20 in the USA Today/coaches preseason poll, begins this season without two of their most reliable players in posts Chelsea Poppens and Anna Prins. All-Big 12 forward Hallie Christofferson returns and is the team’s only senior who figures to see lots of playing time.
Instead of playing on the perimeter, the 6-3 Christofferson will move inside to play with four perimeter players.
“That’s the great things about college sports,” said Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly, whose team is picked to finish sixth. “People come and people go and new people get an opportunity every year. We have signs around here that say ‘The Iowa State Way.’ We have a way of doing things with the seniors leaving a piece of themselves behind. Tradition never dies.”
Christofferson’s role will be to provide the type of steady production and leadership that Poppens and Prins provided.
“This year I’ll be back in the paint more after being on the perimeter more last season,” Christofferson said. “I’m just getting back into the post game but in high school I was always the tallest. Last year I had to adjust to the perimeter. Overall, we’ll be quicker but we’re shorter.”
On her way to becoming an unanimous all-Big 12 selection, Christofferson led the Cyclones in field goal percentage (.516), three-point percentage (.401), free-throw percentage (.862) and points per game (15.6). She’s the only returning player in the country to lead her team in those categories. She was also one of just two players nationally to shoot .500 from the field, .400 from beyond the arc and .800 from the free throw line.
“I think she’s one of the best players in the country that people don’t know about,” Fennelly said. “This team will be built around (Christofferson). We need her to be an all-Big 12 player again. Some players run away from that sort of challenge; she embraces it.”
Junior point guard Nikki Moody, who averaged 7.4 assists per game to lead the Big 12 last season, and junior guard/forward Brynn Williamson are veterans who need to expand their roles.
“I think I’m going to need and have the opportunity to score more this season,” said Moody, who averaged 8.4 points per game last season but shot just 28.8 percent from the 3-point line. “I need to attack the boards more and help out with rebounding and I’m going to have to try and drive and get to the rim more.”
Williamson averaged 8.3 points per game. She led the Cyclones in 3-pointers made and shot 35.4 percent behind the line.
“The teams that grow and improve have juniors who grow and improve, like Nikki and Brynn,” Fennelly said. “They have two years of experience and if juniors play really well. If at the end of the season we’ve played well, Nikki and Brynn will be the reason.”
Freshmen Jadda Buckley and Seanna Johnson are expected to play major roles. Buckley, a 5-8 guard, is one of the top recruits Fennelly has landed in 19 seasons.
“If she’s not starting or playing 30 minutes a game I’ll be shocked,” Fennelly said of Buckley. “She comes in Big-12 ready (defensively). A lot of kids don’t. She came here to play. And she’s going to play … a lot.”
Johnson is a 5-10 guard who can attack off the dribble – a commodity that the Cyclones have lacked in recent seasons.
“We’re going to be guard heavy and the way the college game is going, with the new officiating emphasis, I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Fennelly said. “There are some great guards in the Big 12. What we need to do is develop some depth.”