Cyclones Elevate Status With Training Facility Renovations

The Iowa State track and cross country program took yet another step in creating one of the nation’s elite training environments this summer, completing the irrigation of its championship-caliber cross country course.

The Iowa State Cross Country Course, first constructed in 1995, was the first facility in the nation designed exclusively for competitive cross country racing. Several cross country-only courses around the nation have been developed since its establishment, including Wisconsin’s Thomas Zimmer Championship Course, the Oklahoma State Cross Country Course and Indiana State’s LaVern Gibson Championship Course.

A look at one of the sprinklers near the finish line of the ISU Cross Country Course.

A look at one of the sprinklers at the ISU Cross Country Course.

The Cyclones are ahead of the curve again, adding an irrigation system throughout the course. The facility spans an area of 212,000 square meters (approx. 52 acres) and incorporates pop-up sprinklers across its 4K, 6K, 8K and 10K courses. The system makes the venue the NCAA’s lone fully-irrigated, cross country-only course.

The renovation features an upgraded home stretch and finish line area. The final 400-meter straightaway is a well-tended sprint to the finish with a chain-link fence barrier between the fans and the course. The finish line is marked by a brick-pillar, iron-trellised arbor. The course upgrades also include a 1600-meter, soft-surface training loop located at the center of the facility.

The Iowa State cross country course has been home to two Big 12 Championships (1996, 98), two NCAA Midwest Regional Championships (1997, 2013) and two NCAA Championships (1995, 2000). The course is also the slated venue of the 2017 NCAA Midwest Regional and will likely play host to the Big 12 Championships in the near future, having not hosted the event since 2008. The irrigation and finish-line project totals a $500,000 investment into the program’s future.

The overhaul at the cross country course is one of several recent renovations the track and cross country program has seen in the past few years. The Cyclone Sports Complex opened in the fall of 2012, providing a top-notch outdoor track. The track includes 4 long-jump runways and two pole-vault areas to go with over 150,000 square feet of throws space.

The finish line drew lots of traffic on social media, including a shoutout from Gary Wilson, executive director of the Roy Griak Invitational.

The finish line drew lots of traffic on social media, including a shoutout from Gary Wilson, executive director of the Roy Griak Invitational.

The Bill and Karen Bergan Track is a part of the $13-million Cyclone Sports Complex, home to ISU softball, soccer and track and field, and is set to host the 2015 Big 12 Outdoor Track and Field Championships this spring.

The Cyclones spend the winter months training at one of the nation’s top indoor facilities in the Lied Recreation-Athletic Center and Harry Hoak Track. The Lied Recreation Center is complete with a 300-meter track, throws space and a turf surface spanning over 3,000 square meters.

The Harry Hoak Track was resurfaced in 2013 and plays host to two meets on an annual basis in the ISU Classic and the Big 12 Indoor Track and Field Championships. The ISU Classic is one of the nation’s premier NCAA-qualifying events, accounting for over 15% of the 2014 NCAA-Championship field across men’s and women’s middle-distance and distance events. The $13-million facility has been home to the conference championships six times and is set for a seventh this upcoming February.

The newly-renovated track locker rooms are complete with individual, wooden-locker space and two televisions. The rec center is also home to training areas to Iowa State wrestling, who shares a recovery area that includes a sauna and ice bath.

Around the nation, many programs can showcase one or two of the indoor/outdoor/cross country facilities, but only a select few boast the championship-level trifecta like the Cyclones.

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2014-15 MBB Schedule Wallpapers

Be ready for the 2014-15 season and give your desktop some flare with these desktop wallpapers, which were created by Alexis Zaborac, a sophomore graphic design student in the ISU Athletics Communications department.

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Cooper Excited For ISU Hall of Fame Induction

John Cooper- D30 reunion 3

Legendary football coach John Cooper has been inducted into so many hall of fames throughout his incredible coaching career, you can pardon him if he loses track. Cooper, who won 192 games and nine conference titles in 24 years as a head coach, can boast being a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame, the Tulsa Athletics Hall of Fame and the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame just to name a few.

Well, you can add another one to his list, and it’s an honor Cooper ranks right at the top.

In February, the ISU Letterwinners Club announced its 2014 inductees to its Athletics Hall of Fame, and the former Cyclone, who lettered three years in football, was a member of the famed 1959 “Dirty Thirty” squad and team captain in 1961, was on the list.

Cooper is excited to return to Ames for the prestigious honor.

“Well, this is quite an honor for me,” Cooper said. “It’s something I look forward to. I’m in the College Football Hall of Fame and the Ohio State Hall of Fame, but the Iowa State Hall of Fame, that’s where it all started.”

A native of Heiskell, Tenn., Cooper spent a brief period in the military before arriving at Iowa State in 1958. In his first season of eligibility in the fall of 1959, he was a part of one of ISU’s most iconic teams in the “Dirty Thirty.”

The team was led by its head coach Clay Stapleton, who took a depleted, rag-tag team and directed them to a win away from an Orange Bowl berth.

Behind All-Americans Dwight Nichols and Tom Watkins, the 1959 Cyclones finished at 7-3 and ranked among the top offensive teams nationally.

Cooper is extremely proud of being a member of one the school’s most famous teams.

“Coach Stapleton ran one of those programs similar to what Bear Bryant did in Junction, Texas, if you are familiar with that,” Cooper said. “We had a lot of players that didn’t make it. That’s how we ended up with only 30 players. Dwight Nichols is probably the toughest player, pound-for-pound, that I have ever been around in my life. Tom Watkins was a great player. I was a proud member of the “Dirty Thirty.” Boy, those were tough times. You had to be dedicated and love the game of football to play it back in those days. After we got rolling and got the name “Dirty Thirty” that got tagged with us we kept getting better and better and better.”

Cooper continued to have a successful career with the Cyclones. In his junior season in 1960, the team again finished 7-3 and defeated Oklahoma (10-6) for the first time since 1931 where he received the game ball. It’s still prominently displayed among his plethora of football artifacts he’s accumulated in his career.

Cooper, John237

Cooper credits Stapleton, who was inducted into the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006, for much of his football passion and for giving him his first crack at coaching.

“Everything that I was taught as a coach, I learned from playing under Coach Stapleton and Tommy Prothro (Oregon State, UCLA),” said Cooper. “After my senior season I went to Coach Stapleton to ask if he could help me get into coaching and he told me, ‘John, I think you would make a hell of a coach. I want you to stay here at Iowa State and coach my freshmen team next year.’ He told me he couldn’t pay me, but could stay as the freshman coach. I told him I would take it under one circumstance, and that was that you treat me like a coach and let me sit in on your meetings and learn football. He said that was fine, and after a year he got me on Prothro’s staff at Oregon State.”

Without a doubt, Cooper ranks as one of the most influential football coaches in the last 40 years. He was a winner everywhere he was at, including stops at Tulsa, Arizona State and Ohio State.

He won a Rose Bowl at both Arizona State and Ohio State, and led the Buckeyes to three Big Ten Championships.

Cooper has mentored countless assistants who later became outstanding college coaches. Names like Larry Coker, Lovie Smith and Rob Ryan were all on Cooper’s staff at one time during his career. Another coach familiar to Iowa State fans was a Cooper protégé’: Paul Rhoads.

In 1991, Cooper hired Rhoads as a graduate assistant at Ohio State. When asked if he saw potential in the young coach of being a leader of a college football program, there was no hesitation in his voice.

“I have been blessed with a lot of good assistants and you could tell Paul had it,” Cooper said. “He worked hard and was dedicated. You never know where your assistants eventually end up, but I knew because Paul had the work ethic and the dedication that someday he was going to be successful.”

Despite his enormous success at other schools, Cooper always kept close tabs at his alma mater. He readily admits he pursued the ISU head coaching job on two occasions.

“I was an assistant at Kansas when the job opened in 1967 and I called Coach Stapleton (ISU’s athletics director at the time) to see if I would be considered for the job and he said they had to hire a name coach,” Cooper remembered. “So, Coach Stapleton hired Johnny Majors. I’m very good friends with Johnny Majors, and he made the right hire.”

Another opportunity arose in 1979.

“I thought I had the job there when Earle Bruce left and Lou McCullough, my assistant coach at Iowa State, was the athletic director,” said Cooper. “I went up and talked to him. I just didn’t feel comfortable at that point working for a guy that coached me. He sort of still referred to me as a player. I wasn’t a player. I was a coach. But anyway, I didn’t get the job and they hired Donnie Duncan. A few years later Max Urick (ISU’s athletics director from 1982-93) calls me and tells me he is a one-man committee and he wanted me to become the coach at Iowa State after Duncan left (1982). I was at Arizona State and I wasn’t ready to go. I wasn’t ready to leave where I was to be honest with you. So a couple different times I tried to get the coaching job, but didn’t get it. One time I at least got offered the coaching job, but I didn’t take it.”

Cooper has no regrets in his career, and he shouldn’t. His record and achievements prove that. He now looks forward to coming back to his roots on Hall of Fame Weekend, Sept. 5-6.

What will make the event even more special for Cooper is that he gets the chance to reminisce with his wife of 57 years, Helen, who married her high school sweetheart and moved to Ames with him in 1958.

The couple lived in married student housing (Pammel Court) during their time in Ames. Helen worked in the ISU purchasing department while John was busy with football and his schooling.

“The best thing I ever did in my life was marry Helen,” Cooper said. “It’s going to be a special weekend for us.”

The 2014 Iowa State Hall of Fame Class:

For information on how to attend the 2014 ISU Letterwinners Club Hall of Fame ceremony, go to:

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Dejean-Jones The Right Fit

Bryce Dejean-Jones

One thing about Bryce Dejean-Jones is certain. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to fit in.

Dejean-Jones arrived at Iowa State in mid-July after finishing up his classwork at UNLV, where he led the Rebels last season averaging 13.6 points per game. Dejean-Jones arrived at ISU a few weeks ahead of when he needed to, looking to get to know his teammates better.

“I’m excited to be here,” Dejean-Jones said. “It has been great getting to meet the guys and getting to know them better. I’m ready to work hard and spend all day, every day in the gym. I’m grateful for this opportunity.”

The explosive wing, who was listed at 6-5 at UNLV but was recently measured at 6-6 by ISU strength coach Andrew Moser, has Cyclone fans dreaming of DeAndre Kane 2.0. Dejean-Jones knows the history of transfers under Fred Hoiberg is rich, and he hopes to leave his own mark.

“DeAndre Kane came here and did what he did, much like the other guys before him,” Dejean-Jones said. “I am looking to create my own path, make my own situation as good as possible.”

Take caution when comparing Dejean-Jones to his predecessor. Kane was one of the most complete players in the nation, averaging 17.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.9 assists. He played with the ball in his hands more than Dejean-Jones will probably be expected to.

From all indications Dejean-Jones likely boasts more bounce than Kane, and he arrives at Iowa State as a better shooter on the perimeter, percentage-wise anyway, than last year’s Big 12 Newcomer of the Year was at Marshall.

Dejean-Jones is a career 33.8 percent 3-point shooter and his athletic ability is second to none on the perimeter according to his new coach.

“By watching Bryce on film I can tell that he is going to be our best athlete on the perimeter,” Hoiberg said. “He can really get up and down the floor and is a high flyer. Bryce possesses a really nice shooting touch as well.”

If previous history is any indication, Dejean-Jones’ career numbers will likely improve under Hoiberg. But that isn’t what attracted him to the program.

“I think for me it was the way he [Hoiberg] gets guys to play together,” Dejean-Jones said. “It is great to watch them on the floor together. It seems like they are having a good time playing. The way they move the ball around, everyone on the court is contributing.”

Awards and honors are nice. But if you talk to Dejean-Jones it is easy to see he just loves the game.

“I just love being able to wake up every day, come out to the gym and produce,” Dejean-Jones said. “I love getting better at a game I’ve loved to play since I was a little kid.”

Dejean-Jones’ expectations for the next year hinge on one thing. Hard work.

“I want to accomplish whatever we can by working hard,” Dejean-Jones said. “Whatever that is I can live with as long as we work hard. We have a lot of great guys on the team from the big men to the guards. It is exciting to me to see such great competition every time we are on the court.”

It is that team-first mentality that has made Hoiberg’s teams so successful in his first four seasons, and he believes Dejean-Jones will fit in just fine.

“The biggest thing we need to do with Bryce is fit him into what we want to do,” Hoiberg said. “From all the conversations I’ve had with Bryce, he’s very willing to buy into what we are trying to do.”

About Dejean-Jones
Height: 6-6
Weight: 210
2013-14 Stats: 13.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.0 rpg, 42.7 FG%, 32.3 3FG%, 64.3 FT%

Check it out: Highlights from his 2013-14 season at UNLV.

Did you know: Dejean-Jones is the fourth player in three years to join the Cyclones after leading his previous team in scoring (Will Clyburn, DeAndre Kane, Abdel Nader).

Quoting: “Bryce has so much bounce. You look at his Twitter picture and half his arm is above the rim. He got a dunk when he was here that shocked me. He can go off the dribble and shoot the ball. We are looking for big things from Bryce.” – Monté Morris in May interview with Cyclone Sidebar.

Follow Shoultz on Twitter: @mjshoultz

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Farniok Gives An Assist To Men’s Hoops

Farniok- MBB weights2

Tom Farniok is in his fifth season at Iowa State, and is working and grinding to realize his dream of playing in the NFL.

The fifth-year senior co-captain from Sioux Falls, South Dakota will be one of the undisputed leaders of the Cyclone offense in 2014. A two-time honorable mention All-Big 12 pick, Farniok has the most career starts (35) on the team and is a preseason Rimington Award Watch List member, an award given annually to the nation’s best center.

As Farniok prepares for his final season with NFL dreams, he has the comfort of knowing he has another blossoming career path if he wishes to choose it.

He proved that this summer by assisting with the men’s basketball program with their strength and conditioning workouts.

Farniok needed class credits for an internship to complete his degree in kinesiology/exercise science. One of ISU’s hardest workers in the weight room, Farniok knew this would be a great opportunity.

“I want to be a collegiate strength and conditioning coach someday,” Farniok said. “It was a great experience for me just seeing the way they do things, and seeing how (Fred) Hoiberg’s staff operates. Obviously, he’s a great coach and you can learn a lot from just observing the program and being in the same area.”

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The Cyclone senior didn’t go through the motions with his internship. In fact, he made quite an impact.

“Tom was awesome, especially as an athlete who already has an idea of what our athletes go through,” said Andy Moser, Iowa State’s Director of Strength and Conditioning for Olympic Sports and head strength coach for men’s basketball. “He already has a great knowledge base of the training, the strength and conditioning and just our student-athlete life in general. I preach to my staff that you have to develop a good, sincere relationship with the athletes first before you’ll be able to coach them. Even as an intern, he came in and connected with the guys from day one.”

Moser has had assistance from football players in the past. Brett Bueker aided in men’s hoops workouts in his final year as an undergraduate. Bueker benefitted from the internship, as the former Cyclone co-captain was hired full-time on the Cyclone football strength and conditioning staff this summer.

As a former ISU letterwinner in football himself, Moser understands the time commitment both Farniok and Bueker shared in their internship.

“Tom would finish his morning workouts with football and then head over later to help out the basketball workouts,” added Moser. “Tom would have to separate himself from the two workouts and get into a coaching mode. Our guys really respected him. Anybody that works for me, they’re an extension of me. But our guys really did a good job of respecting him and making sure they listened to him. He was able to come over here with our groups and really get into a coaching mode and really help our guys out.”

Farniok admitted gaining the respect from the players was a high priority. He didn’t want to be perceived as a fellow student-athlete, but as an instructor. The players bought in right away.

“Coach Moser, he’s a great strength coach and it was great to be around him and learn from him,” said Farniok. “The guys came to work every day for him and me. They were focused. Obviously, that’s why they’re a good team because you can tell they believe in doing things right. Georges (Niang) is a hell of a worker. We all saw the picture of his body change. He’s made a huge commitment to being in shape and watching his body. He’s the type of guy that maximizes every ounce of ability he has.”

Niang knew right away that Farniok was about business when he stepped into the weight room. He benefited from his knowledge.

“He (Farniok) was a great guy to be around,” the All-Big 12 forward said. “He obviously has a lot of energy and he brought a lot of energy around us, and that helped with our lifts to have a guy like that who is so experienced with lifting. He was very active helping us with reps and pushing us to do sets. It was great to have him around to push us through.”

Farniok doesn’t have a crystal ball to tell his future. He does, however, have valuable experience under his belt as a strength and conditioning instructor when that time comes.

Farniok will have a strong recommendation from Moser, “He’s going to be a pretty good strength coach.”

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ISU and New York Go Way Back

Iowa State is set to play in Brooklyn in January, a non-conference showdown with South Carolina as a final primer for the Big 12 season. This comes on the heels of a trip to the big city in the Sweet 16 last season.

Iowa State has a number of connections to New York, starting with assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih, who attended college in Queens at St. John’s. New graduate assistant Tim Mannix was also a St. John’s graduate.

Dustin Hogue scored 34 points last season at The Garden.

Dustin Hogue scored 34 points last season at The Garden.

On the current roster, Yonkers product Dustin Hogue returns for his senior season. Hogue had a terrific performance in his homecoming last spring when he scored a career-high 34 points against UCONN in the Sweet 16. Transfer Hallice Cooke, who will sit out 2014-15 after transferring from Oregon State, grew up just across the Hudson River in Union City, New Jersey.

John Crawford played for the Cyclones from 1956-58.

John Crawford played for the Cyclones from 1956-58.

But Iowa State’s connection to the New York area dates back much farther than the current roster. In the 1950s, a young New Yorker named John Crawford went west, far out of what was probably his element, to Ames, Iowa. Crawford, who was Iowa State’s first African-American basketball player was the start of something special that ties together Iowa State and the New York area.

Crawford played two years for the Cyclones, averaging 13.4 points per game and helping ISU win the 1955 Big Seven Holiday Tournament.

There isn’t a large number of New York area players that have suited up for the Cyclones. In fact, the number is quite low (fewer than 20 players from the New York area have played for ISU). But the guys that have, most went on to have terrific careers for the Cyclones.

Five 1,000-point scorers. Six all-conference first-team selections. Three Iowa State Hall of Famers.

Shortly after Crawford moved on, Brooklyn native Hank Whitney joined the Cyclones and averaged 10.3 points per game before being drafted by the Syracuse Nationals (now the Philadelphia 76ers).

Vince Brewer came from New York City and went on to have a 1,000-point career while playing alongside Whitney and Nick Bruno (Staten Island, N.Y.) on Glen Anderson’s team.

Zaid Abdul-Aziz left Iowa State as the school's leading scorer.

Zaid Abdul-Aziz left Iowa State as the school’s leading scorer.

In the mid-60s, a young post player named Don Smith came to town from Brooklyn. Smith, who later changed his name to Zaid Abdul-Aziz, left Iowa State as the school’s leading scorer with 1,672 career points. Abdul-Aziz was a first-team all-conference pick. He had his #35 jersey retired in 1968 and inducted into the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals in the first round of the 1968 draft.

Abdul-Aziz played his final season with the Cyclones alongside the White Plains, N.Y. duo of Bill Cain and Dave Collins. Abdul-Aziz averaged 24.2 points and Cain chipped in 16.7.

Cain led the team in scoring in his final two seasons as a Cyclone. Collins averaged 9.5 points per game in his 75 career games.

From that point on, ISU’s ties to the big city went mostly dry until 1998. Michael Nurse arrived from just across the Hudson River in Teaneck, N.J. Nurse would average 11.5 points. He played a major role during the 1999-00 season, finishing second on the team in scoring with 12.5 points per game.

Jamaal Tinsley has played nearly 550 games in the NBA.

Jamaal Tinsley has played nearly 550 games in the NBA.

Brooklyn came up big for the Cyclones again in 2000 when a JUCO guard by the name of Jamaal Tinsley arrived in Ames. Tinsley, who held the nickname “The Abuser” while playing in the Rucker League, ended his career in 2001 as an All-American and is widely considered one of the best players to ever don a cardinal and gold jersey.

Curtis Stinson played for ISU for three seasons, scoring 1,651 career points.

Curtis Stinson played for ISU for three seasons, scoring 1,651 career points.

Another tough guard from the playgrounds of New York arrived in 2004. Curtis Stinson, a Bronx native and “Blue Collar” to his foes at Rucker Park, was an instant impact player for the Cyclones, earning freshman All-American honors while scoring 16.2 points in 2003-04. Like Hogue, Stinson had a successful return home when he tallied 32 points at Madison Square Garden (vs. Rutgers in the NIT semifinals). He finished his three-year career with 1,651 points.

A high-flyer from Queens arrived in 2005 to team up with Stinson. Rahshon Clark had a propensity for the ridiculous highlight film slams, often bringing the Hilton Coliseum crowd to its feet. He made 108 starts and scored 1,075 career points.

New York has been good to Iowa State. Hopefully we can get a win there in January.

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A Jolt, Something Different: 20 Years of Bill Fennelly

Bill Fennelly

As Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly enters his 20th season at Iowa State, we decided to take a look back at the last 19 seasons and how it all started.

Janel Grimm really hated the yellow caution tape in Hilton Coliseum. It bothered her from day one.

With an average of 733 fans in attendance at Iowa State women’s basketball games, the Hilton Coliseum crew would tape off sections with yellow caution tape to keep fans centrally located and to assist with a quick and easy cleanup.

The yellow caution tape wasn’t the only problem.

With no lines to get in, Grimm’s parents would pull up to the arena just before tip, park front and center, and walk inside Hilton Coliseum with no questions asked.

The atmosphere during games in Hilton Coliseum was also weak. If you wanted to sit in the upper deck there was no chance of that happening with the stairs blocked off.  Concessions were at a minimum. For women’s games, workers would drag out two pushcarts to serve the few fans in attendance. The regular concession stands weren’t open.

One day Grimm made herself a promise that before her time was up at Iowa State the yellow caution tape would come down.

As Bill Fennelly picked up the morning newspaper on May 12, 1995, he flipped to the sports page and his eye caught an article on the resignation of Iowa State women’s basketball coach Theresa Becker.

Fennelly, who was currently the women’s basketball coach at Toledo, was fresh off his sixth postseason bid. He had built Toledo from the ground up over the last seven years.

Fennelly read on as Becker cited personal and professional reasons for her resignation and offered an introspective quote.

“I feel that I have taken this program as far as I can,” Becker said. “To get to the next level, this program needs a jolt, something different. What I am doing is in the best interest of the team.”

A jolt. Something different.

A few hours later the phone rang in the Fennelly house.

The caller was Gene Smith, the then athletic director at Iowa State.

Home is Where the Heart is
One summer on a visit home from his job with the Toledo Rockets, the Fennelly family was driving through Ames, which is located halfway between his parents’ house in Davenport and his wife Deb’s parents’ home in Ruthven. His eldest son Billy looked up and simply said, “Dad, why can’t you just coach here?”

He looked over at the then-six-year-old boy and explained that sometimes it’s not that simple, but in the back of his mind he wished it was.

Fennelly was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. Davenport is located along the Mississippi River, and is part of the Quad Cities, which boasts a population of over 380,000 today. His father ran a gas station in Davenport and that’s where Fennelly learned about hard work and how to treat people.

He was raised a fan of all things Iowa. He never picked an allegiance between Iowa and Iowa State and would often go to sporting events for both teams.

Fennelly played high school basketball in Davenport when he was first introduced to the coaching world. He considered himself a “very average” player, but his high school coach would often tell him he would be a good coach someday. That comment stuck with him throughout high school and into college at William Penn. While on campus, he was asked by the head women’s basketball coach, Bob Spencer, if he wanted to help out.

Spencer didn’t have an assistant on his staff, but Fennelly was a sponge and tried to learn as much as he could. The assistant position turned into a full-time gig after graduation, and Fennelly helped lead the Lady Statesman to an AIAW National Championship in 1981.

It was then that Spencer was offered the head coaching job at Fresno State, and took Fennelly along with him.

From there he went to Notre Dame and then off to Toledo for his first head coaching position. Sure he and Deb missed Iowa, but he had a career now and he was building something. He knew this career may never lead him back home, but it was his dream nonetheless.

“Professional Suicide” or a Dream Come True
A few years after that conversation with Billy, he got the call that would change everything.
When he answered the phone it was all too familiar to the one he received three years earlier when Iowa State was searching for a new coach, only this time it was a different athletic director on the line and the pitch seemed to have a different ring to it.

There was still some hesitation for the Fennellys for a few reasons. First, they had their heart set on returning to Iowa a few years prior and the administration hired Becker for the position. Second, he had a solid team at Toledo and they were fresh off an NCAA tournament and were returning the entire team. He had high hopes for the 1995-96 Rockets. Lastly, becoming the head coach at Iowa State would require him to take a pay cut, and that was not the norm in college coaching or anywhere for that matter.

After interviewing with top officials at Iowa State, the call from Smith came in July. The position was his if he wanted it. He said first he needed to talk to the boss before making a decision, and by boss he meant his wife, Deb. They both agreed this was what was best for them at the time and he feverishly tried to get Smith back on the line to accept the position. The deal was done within an hour of the offer.

After accepting the position, Fennelly received mixed reviews from people. His family was thrilled they were returning to Iowa, but many others didn’t see it as a great decision to leave a booming Toledo program for a program that had just five winning seasons in 22 years.

A coaching friend even went as far as to say he was committing “professional suicide” by going to Iowa State.

Those were harsh words. It’s true that Iowa State’s women’s basketball program appeared lifeless from the outside. The program had zero postseason trips, and had also gone through five coaches in its 22 year history, but coaching in Iowa was his dream.

Please Welcome John Smith
As Fennelly arrived in Ames just prior to the introductory press conference, he checked into his hotel under the name “John Smith.” The athletic department made it a priority to keep the new hire a secret until the official announcement.

The press conference room was filled with friends, family and reporters while the women’s basketball team stood in the back of the room. Mixed feelings surrounded the group, some were upset about losing the only coach they knew, some were excited for what change could bring and some were a little of both.

Bill FennellyA beaming Smith took the podium and sold Fennelly to the crowd.

“It was a fortunate search because we found a great leader,” Smith said. “One that is a good coach, a good teacher, a good recruiter, a motivator of young people.”

Fennelly excitedly took the podium, offering a passionate statement on what it means to return to the state of Iowa for him and his family.

“I know it would seem cliché nowadays to talk about dreams and aspirations,” Fennelly said. “For 20 years I’ve been a women’s basketball coach, and for 20 years I’ve dreamed of coming to this school to coach, to hopefully finish my career and to build something in this state and for this university. It is a dream come true for me and my family.”

In his mind, he hoped Cyclone Nation and the Iowa community would embrace the Fennellys as they were just like them – Iowans.

At the end of the press conference Smith offered one last message to Cyclone Nation.

“I want to share one last thing … he’s a winner. Bill Fennelly is a winner, beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

A Winner
In his first days on the job at Iowa State he knew he had an uphill battle. He had to coach a team of players he inherited. Not a single player in the 1995-96 season was one of his recruits. He had to make the best of it.

He credits Becker for leaving him a strong cast of players. Good kids with solid work ethic and a will to win. Players like Janel Grimm, Tara Gunderson and Jayme Olson, who was a 2014 inductee to the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame.

It was Gunderson, a 5-8 junior, who surprised him the most as she sat down for her one-on-one meeting.

“What do you want to see change?” he asked the Lake Park, Iowa native.

“You just tell me what you want me to do because I just want to win.”

And win they did.

The 1995-96 Cyclones began the season with a 12-0 record and an undefeated nonconference record, the first in Iowa State history. However, Fennelly would be the first to tell you winning isn’t the only part of building a program, though it does help.

If You Build It – They Will Come
In Fennelly’s office, propped up on a side table sits a single framed box score, an 82-55 win over Idaho State in the Cyclone Classic played in front of a few hundred fans. He keeps it for a few reasons, for one it is a reminder of where they started. He recalls playing in a quiet Hilton Coliseum where his first win as head coach of the Cyclones was witnessed by just a few fans.

He doesn’t forget the silence. It’s where they started, and he knew then it wouldn’t be where they finished.

So he put together a plan.

They started with Fellows Elementary School and Green Hills retirement home. In true Iowa fashion, Deb and Bill got in touch with the local Ames community; they smiled, shook hands and invited everyone who would listen to come to watch the Cardinal and Gold in action.

“It was like a really poorly orchestrated political campaign is what I tell people,” Fennelly said. “We were gripping and grinning and talking and meeting as many people as we could see and going to as many things as we could go to.”

FennellyIt was a true grass roots campaign.

While Bill was off recruiting and coaching, it was Deb who took on the reins of getting fans to come to games. She was the marketing director before they ever had one, Bill jokes. Slowly but surely, it began to work.

Soon enough, the women’s basketball team got support from Dan McCarney, the then-football coach, and Tim Floyd, the then-men’s basketball coach. The university president Martin Jischke and Smith also helped pump up the team.

The players got involved too. They made numerous stops at charitable events. Nobody went home until the sharpies were dry and everyone got their autograph.

As Deb, Bill and the Cyclones immersed themselves in the community, the caution tape was shuffled around to add more room, a few more pushcart concession stands were added, and before long the concourse concession stands opened.

Turning it Around
When Fennelly took a look at the 1995-96 schedule that was set up by his predecessor and her staff he immediately had a question.

“Why isn’t Iowa on the schedule?”

The response he got went something to the effect of, “Well coach, we aren’t good enough to play them so they don’t schedule us and we don’t schedule them.”

He didn’t like the response very much and he planned to change that.

And change it did.

Grimm remembers the moment clearly when Fennelly announced to the team the Hawkeyes were now on the 1996-97 schedule. Eight of the 14 members of the 1996-97 team were Iowans, and Grimm had grown up a fan of the Hawkeyes. She had hoped this moment would come, a chance to play the intrastate rival, who was long considered the “big dog” in the state.

“I walked out of Hilton practically skipping back to my dorm so excited because we were going to play Iowa,” Grimm said.

The Cyclones would fall 64-53 at Iowa when the series was renewed. The loss didn’t bother the Cyclones, they just wanted the chance to compete against the Hawkeyes, but they knew when Iowa came to Hilton Coliseum the next year they were going to get them.

It was Iowa’s first trip to Hilton Coliseum in six seasons.

As the Hawkeyes arrived on Dec. 13, 1997 they were greeted by something they or even the Cyclones had never seen before in Hilton Coliseum, a school record 5,844 fans were decked out in Cardinal & Gold. And for the first time in history, the balcony was opened for fans to sit and the infamous caution tape was removed.

Iowa State rewarded the record crowd when it went on to defeat Iowa, 74-57, for the first time since 1982 behind a 22-point performance from Iowa transfer Stacy Frese.

Fennelly IowaFor Fennelly, that game marked a real turning point in Cyclone basketball. Iowa State was relevant to the Iowa community again, but they weren’t done shaking things up yet.
Just over a month after the win against Iowa, the Cyclones won at Colorado, 76-67, for the first time since 1987. Fennelly looked over at senior Janel Grimm and noticed a tear in her eye.

He asked her if everything was alright and she said her freshman year they had lost by 45 points to Colorado and then lost by 35 points a week later in the conference tournament. It was a special moment for the senior to have gotten that particular win.

As the season went on it wouldn’t be the only special moment. There were two more games that will hold a special place in program history in the 1997-98 season.

Just a week after the win at Colorado, a blizzard was bearing down on Ames. With the snow falling in buckets, the Cyclone faithful braved the blizzard, showing up in droves to cheer on the home team as fifth-ranked Texas Tech came to town. A total of 3,188 fans piled into a warm Hilton Coliseum and witnessed Iowa State topple the Lady Raiders, 82-73. The win would move the Cyclones into the Associated Press Poll for the first time in school history.

Iowa State would host the 1998 NCAA tournament first and second rounds, winning its first tournament game against Kent and earning a date with Rutgers in the second round. In one of the most emotional games in ISU history, the Cyclones fell 62-61 on their home court.

However, the record crowd of 9,705 fans felt nothing but pride for the home team. The fans cared not just about winning, but about the girls who wore the jerseys. They were invested in the team and knew they had battled not just for 40 minutes against Rutgers, but for every minute of the season. For that, the crowd honored them with a standing ovation.

“They played hard,” Fennelly reflected. “Yeah, they didn’t win and we all wanted them to win, but they appreciated the effort and getting to that point, which no one thought that they could get to.”

The 99ers
The Rutgers loss was tough for Stacy Frese to swallow. They were so close. They played hard. It just wasn’t enough to lift the Cyclones to their first Sweet 16 berth.

She entered the press conference teary eyed. She answered question-after-question under the bright lights of cameras flashing all the while thinking about what they could have done differently.

Days later she came across a picture of herself crying at the postgame press conference. She clipped it from the newspaper along with the score of the game and put it in her locker. She also taped a single word “Rutgers” on her mirror and in her car. It was a constant reminder.

Every single day Frese stared at that same picture and that same score. It never changed, but she still looked at it. She promised herself if she was given another opportunity there would be a different ending.

The next season Iowa State advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time after beating Santa Clara and Oregon on its home court. The wins earned them a trip to Cincinnati, Ohio to face top-seeded Connecticut.

After the win against Oregon, Frese walked back to her locker and tore up the picture.

Iowa State was the instant underdog, and it’s safe to say nobody gave the Cyclones the time of day. Press questions centered around “You must just be happy to be here, right?”

In a way they were just happy to be there, making it to a Sweet 16 was something Fennelly always wanted to achieve in his career. He hadn’t done it at Toledo and hoped that one day he would take the Cyclones and make history together.

However, they’d be lying if they said it wasn’t offensive. They answered the questions honestly and politely, but maybe gritted their teeth a little more than a typical pregame press conference.

“We were happy to be there, but we weren’t done,” Frese said.

If one thing was certain there wasn’t a person in the Iowa State locker room who didn’t think they could beat Connecticut.

Scores of Iowa State fans came down for the game. With Fennelly only a few years removed from being the head coach at Toledo, the Cyclones had quite a cheering section, former players, fans and friends of the Fennelly’s showed up to cheer on the Cyclones. Even the Hilton Coliseum tech crew loaded up in a van to drive down for the game. They all wanted to see what this Iowa State team was really capable of.

The game was neck-and-neck most of the way through. Connecticut, who was the national leader in field-goal percentage, was hounded by the Cyclones’ defensive game plan. Iowa State held them to a season-low 29.9 percent.

With 5:26 left on the clock, ISU was trailing 50-43. They needed something, anything. That something came in the unlikeliest of ways – a 3-pointer from Monica Huelman. Before that shot, Huelman had hit just 14 3-pointers that season. Huelman’s basket opened the floodgates for ISU. One after the other. Tracy Gahan. Frese. Megan Taylor. Frese. The barrage of 3-pointers forced a Connecticut timeout. The crowd knew a Cyclone victory was within reach when the score stood at 59-55 with just over two minutes remaining.

Huelman, the 6-2 junior from Vinton, Iowa, who hit the biggest shot in Iowa State history is not only known for THE shot, but that she was Fennelly’s first recruit to sign with the Cyclones.Fennelly UCONN

When it was all said and done the final stat line read Iowa State 64, Connecticut 58. The Cyclones would advance to their first Elite 8 berth, becoming just the third team at that time to make an Elite 8 after posting a record of 8-19 or worse four seasons prior.

The throngs of Iowa State fans who made the game could hardly contain their excitement. They had traveled near and far to see the Cyclones compete in the Shoemaker Center.

Take Iowa State student Luke DeKoster for example. DeKoster told the Ames Tribune he left a spring break mission trip in Denver, Colo. when he heard ISU advanced to the Sweet 16. He drove 711 miles back to Ames to pack his bag and pick up two friends and make the 10-hour drive to Cincinnati. They drove through the night and arrived just 10-minutes before tip-off.

“All my life, as a Cyclone fan, you can’t beat this,” he told the Ames Tribune of the win over Connecticut. “This is like Lafester Rhodes scoring 54; this is like beating Iowa in football, except better.”

Iowa State’s magical run would end in the Elite 8 with a loss to Georgia, but it had left its mark on the women’s college basketball world anyway.

Never Say Never
If you asked Fennelly in 1995 if Iowa State would ever see over 10,000 fans for a women’s basketball game he would have answered simply, “Never.”

After the 1998-99 season, Iowa State women’s basketball would never be looked at in the same light again. They had arrived, not just in the Iowa community, but on the national scene as well. They were relevant to women’s college basketball and stood as a shining example that anything is possible with the right leader.

Under the direction of Fennelly, Iowa State has made 15 NCAA Championship appearances, five Sweet 16 berths and two Elite 8 appearances. The Cyclones have climbed the attendance ranks, sitting at second nationally behind only Tennessee. Eight Cyclones have combined to earn 13 All-America nods. Iowa State has also maintained a 100 percent graduation rate during his tenure.

If you recall the coaching friend that said Fennelly was committing “professional suicide,” well he called back at the end of the 1999 season asking if Fennelly had seen The Women’s Basketball Journal because it had Iowa State ranked fifth, Tennessee sixth and Louisiana Tech seventh.

And what about that dreadful yellow caution tape? Well, it hasn’t seen a game inside Hilton Coliseum since 1997.

A special thanks to Tom Kroeschell and Erin Rosacker for their historical contributions to this piece.
This article was made possible by interviews with Bill Fennelly, former SID Erin Rosacker, former beat writer Susan Harman and former players Tara Gunderson, Janel Grimm and Stacy Frese.
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