By Harrison March:
Among the handful of former Cyclone greats to be inducted into the Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame on Oct. 16 is perhaps the greatest shooter in the history of Iowa State basketball, but that’s an accomplishment even she didn’t foresee.
Stacy Frese concedes that she was not the most talented Cyclone during her run with some of Bill Fennelly’s first ISU squads, but she never let that physical hindrance slow her down.
“I think I’m just ultra-competitive. I think that was just the way I’ve been brought up with my family,” Frese said. “If you looked at me and saw me, I’m not a gifted athlete. You would be thinking, ‘Oh wow.’ I think it was my attitude.”
After spending her first year of college at the University of Iowa, the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native decided she simply wasn’t at the right school. Though transferring across the Cy-Hawk rivalry may have seemed unnatural to some, Frese didn’t think much of it.
Not only did she still get to play in her home state, but Frese would also get the chance to play for Fennelly, who heavily recruited her while he was coaching at Toledo.
“When it came time that I knew I was going to leave Iowa, that was easy,” Frese recalled.
Frese blossomed under Fennelly from 1998-2000, setting a then-record for career assists with 484 while earning All-Big 12 and All-America honors in her final two seasons. Frese also set a school record by shooting 45.3 percent from three-point range in her career, the highest mark of any men’s or women’s player in ISU history and still good enough for eighth-best in NCAA women’s basketball history.
What ISU fans didn’t see while Frese was playing was the unique process that went into becoming so efficient from three-point range.
“One night I left the office at about 10 p.m. and I heard a ball bouncing out in the arena,” Fennelly told the Women’s Basketball Journal in 1999. “Stacy was out there shooting and the only lights on were coming off the scoreboard. Whenever she has free time, she’s working on her shooting.”
Over her three-year career in the Cardinal and Gold, Frese went on to break or tie numerous other Iowa State women’s basketball records and help lead the Cyclones to Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen appearances. She also took home the Iowa State Female Athlete of the Year award and claimed First-Team Academic All-Big 12 honors each season.
The unconventional hours clearly paid off for Frese, whose sister, then-ISU assistant coach Brenda Frese, lauded her for the approach she took to the game.
“I have never seen a player spend as many hours with a basketball. I thought I worked hard, but what I did as a player doesn’t even compare to the time Stacy puts in,” Brenda told the Women’s Basketball Journal in 1999. “She’s not the quickest or most athletic player. She became a great player because of her work ethic.”
That work ethic not only upped Stacy’s game, but it became contagious and spread throughout the teams she played on.
“One of the greatest things a coach can have is when one of their better players is the hardest worker,” Fennelly told the Women’s Basketball Journal in 1999. “There’s no question that she means a lot more to this program than what she contributes during the 40 minutes of each game. Stacy has changed the whole mental approach of the team.”
That tough-working approach and team-oriented mentality resonates with Frese today as she recalls her favorite things about playing for Iowa State. None of them are records, stats or big plays, but rather she thinks of a list of team accomplishments.
“It was a great run. I think we had all of the pieces to the puzzle and knew our places and how we fit together,” Frese said. “My teammates are still some of the best friends I have… And I suppose I met my husband there, too.”
The attributes that made Stacy into the standout she was is still a part of her, even as she becomes enshrined in history as one of the best student-athletes to ever become a Cyclone. The overtime hours and dimly-lit gyms were never about her. Just like Frese, the hours were about Iowa State women’s basketball.
“It’s a really nice honor and I’m very appreciative of it,” Frese said. “I guess I just never think of individual things because basketball is a team sport. It’s really nice to be recognized, but the one thing I liked most was being part of the team.”