Looking for a favorable deal in 2015

One of the questions always posed to the head coach on media day is “how many freshmen will play?”

Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads said just one frosh is likely to play and that is at running back where the Cyclones are very inexperienced.

There are, however, eight junior college prospects (three on offense, five on defense) in the two-deep lineup who have never played in a game for the Cyclones. Health-permitting, they’ll likely all play. JC players are more seasoned than preps and ISU has put on premium on recruiting them that last couple of years.

“They’re experienced players and have a higher level of maturity as they enter the program,” Rhoads said. “We’ve needed to take advantage of that the last couple years and are (hopeful of) seeing the fruits of that right now. The plan is in place to continue to work that group and hopefully improve because of that.”

In the last two years, ISU has been bitten hard by the injury bug.

“Without a doubt, our depth as been exposed,” Rhoads said. “I don’t know comparatively speaking to other programs and numbers, but decimated is an accurate word when you look at our past in that regard.”

Rhoads has coached ISU to three bowl games. In those seasons, the Cyclones were able to keep their upper classmen healthy. Consider the number of underclassmen who earned starts each season.

  • 2012 Liberty Bowl – sophomores combined to start 23 games, freshmen just five
  • 2011 Pinstripe Bowl – sophomores started 44 games, freshmen 24
  • 2009 Insight Bowl – sophomores started 57 games, freshmen just five

Last season, Iowa State had 83 starts by sophomores and 42 by freshmen. Too many vets had too many trips to the training room for extended time away from the field.

“There will be a lot of new faces on the field in 2015 but we’ve seen enough of that group already that we feel we’ll be better,” Rhoads said. “How competitive they can get and how far along they’ll come will depend on the confidence level that grows in August and during the season.”

With the influx of JC players in recent years, Iowa State hasn’t had this much experienced depth in a while. On paper at least, the Cyclones appear to be better equipped to deal with missed playing time this fall.

“You need a little luck (with injuries),” Rhoads said. “Health is the hand we’d like to be favorably dealt as we go into the 2015 season.”

The drama on the 18th at Southern Hills brings back memories

Fernandez, Scott_BI_14_2

The 2001 U.S. Open Golf Championship was staged at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla.

I worked the event as a media liaison on the 18th green. That difficult par-4 earned quite the reputation because of its incredibly challenging green.

Undulating and fast, the putting surface was the topic of much debate during the Open.

Mark Brooks, who was tied for the lead in the final round, reached #18 first but three-putted to fall out of a lead that he shared with Retief Goosen.

Several groups later, Goosen and then co-leader Stewart Cink approached 18. Cink hit his ball over the green and then three-putted for a double bogey.

A par for Goosen would clinch the title, but he missed a two-footer. The South African did, eventually, win a Monday playoff with Brooks.

But the drama from 18 was something to remember. Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon and the Big 12 Men’s Golf Championship at Southern Hills.

The Cyclones found themselves two strokes ahead of 20th-ranked Oklahoma State in the race for fourth place.

Amazingly, Cowboy Zachary Olsen converted a 40-footer on the treacherous 18th. Iowa State’s Nick Voke lipped out a seven-footer for birdie. The margin between the Cyclones and Cowboys was one.

In the final pairing, Okie State’s Jordan Niebrugge defied the odds again and dropped another 40-footer for birdie. Match – between ISU and OSU – tied.

Cyclone senior Scott Fernandez, who had birdied two of the prior three holes, had a 15-foot try for birdie on the 18th. The native of Spain calmly rolled in the critical putt and ISU had its second-best finish since the Big 12 was formed.

Iowa State – ranked 42nd nationally – bested Oklahoma State (20th), Oklahoma (10th) and Baylor (17th) in the 2015 meet. It was an eventful championship.

And, once again, it all came down to the action on the 18th green at Southern Hills.

Unprecedented Back2Back wins in Cy-Hawk Series

Netten, Cole14UI2

The Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series came down to the bottom of the seventh inning. Literally.

When Stacy Roggentien recorded her 10th strikeout with a runner on first base to end the seventh inning, the Cyclone softball team’s 5-4 win meant the coveted Cy-Hawk Series Trophy would stay in Ames.

Winning the series two years in a row had never been done previously in the competition, which dates back to 2004. The schools alternate hosting eight of the 10 events (two are at neutral sites) on an annual basis, so it had been unachievable to win the series in consecutive seasons.

That changed last night. It is, once again, a Cyclone state.

The 2014-15 series included big wins, blowouts and brilliant performances on both sides.

Iowa State hosted just two events and won both.

  • Soccer – Ally Williamson’s goal in the 75th minute was the game winner in a 2-1 decision.
  • Volleyball – After two close sets, the Cyclones held Iowa to an .029 hitting percentage in the final stanza for a 3-0 sweep.

The schools had neutral site meetings at the regional meet cross country meets in Peoria, Ill.

  • Women’s Cross Country – All five Cyclone runners finished before the first Hawkeye competitor as Iowa State won the regional meet. UI was 13th.
  • Men’s Cross Country – All five ISU point scorers placed in the Top 32 as the Cyclones finished third. Iowa was seventh.

In events at Iowa City, there were three memorable performances.

  • Football – Cole Netten connected on a 42-yard field goal with 0:02 left in a 20-17 triumph.
  • Men’s Basketball – ISU had a 21-2 run to open the second half and coasted behind a 19-point performance from Abdel Nader.
  • Softball – Ally Cappaert hit a game-winning home run in the fifth inning to close out the series with a one-run victory.

Savor the win. A chance for a three-peat doesn’t begin until next fall.

A perspective on perspective

Hoiberg, Fred15Big12KUpodium

Finding perspective in times of frustration is hard.

That might be where many in the Cyclone fan base find themselves after the opening games of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. It’s totally understandable.

The mechanics of Iowa State’s loss to UAB were rooted in rebounding and shooting.

  • The Blazers had 19 offensive rebounds against a program that led the Big 12 in both defensive rebounds (26.78 per game) and defensive rebounding percentage (.692).
  • ISU made just 42.9% of its two-point attempts after topping its league by nearly five full percentage points in two-point shooting.

It was a bit of an outlier game for the Cyclones and, unfortunately, it came during the one-and-done part of the season.

Those are facts. So, too, is it a fact that ISU won 25 games, earned it second Big 12 Tournament Championship in a row, registered more wins vs. Top 50 schools than anyone in the nation and delighted us throughout a long winter.

The low feelings will eventually disappear and anticipation for next year will soon take over.

That is a perspective that won’t come naturally for some.  But, in the end, appreciating all of the fun excitement is the best tonic for moving forward.

Our Coach is Cooler than Your Coach

Hoiberg, Fred_UMKC_2014-15_2

When Iowa State Director of Athletics Jamie Pollard underwent triple bypass surgery last week, heart condition became a hot topic around Cyclone athletics.

Basketball coach Fred Hoiberg, himself a pacemaker user, found himself talking about stress levels – his own and that of his boss – as the Cyclones won three nail biters to capture their second Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship in a row.

Each of the games featured a comeback of double digit points. Reporters covering the tournament marveled at the composure of the Cyclones. They never got rattled despite challenging deficits.

That coolness or calmness can be traced back to Hoiberg. That’s how he handles his business. As Pollard begins his recovery from the heart attack he suffered, Hoiberg would be a good role model to follow. Stress never seems to enter Hoiberg’s domain. If it does, he doesn’t show it. Ever.

The love affair that Cyclone Nation has with Hoiberg is well grounded. T-shirts – you know, the ones with “Our Coach is Better Looking than Your Coach” and “Our Coach Dances Better than Your Coach” – dotted the crowd in the Sprint Center just like they did all season in Hilton Coliseum.

The next one ought to be “Our Coach is Cooler (or calmer) than Your Coach.”

That’s a fact, too, and it’s a great trait to emulate.

Recent runner-up finishes boost Cyclones

Big 12 logo

Several recent second-place finishes vaulted Iowa State’s athletics program into fourth place of the Big 12 all-sports standings.

Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma currently sit 1-2-3 in the standings with the Cyclones and Baylor completing the first division.

Iowa State’s best-ever finish in the league’s composite performance rankings is fifth, set last year.

The ISU wrestlers became league runners-up over the weekend – joining the women’s swimming and diving team, which did the same last week – based upon its championship finish.

Fred Hoiberg’s basketball team completed its regular season with a 12-6 record in the nation’s toughest conference. The Cyclones tied Oklahoma for second place, its best finish in 14 seasons.

Eleven Big 12 sports have completed their regular seasons in 2014-15 and eight of the ISU teams – men’s & women’s basketball, men’s & women’s cross country, men’s indoor track, women’s swimming & diving, volleyball and wrestling – posted upper division finishes.

Below are the current Big 12 all-sports standings. The number associated with each school is its percentile ranking for its composite program:

Texas – .753
Oklahoma State – .725
Oklahoma – .653
Iowa State – .616
Baylor – .613
Kansas – .536
West Virginia – .507
Kansas State – .480
Texas Tech – .367
TCU – .346

Formula (for success) and mission is well defined

Mangino, Mark_Spring2013-14_1

In the last three years of Big 12 play, the best cumulative records belong to Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma. Each has gone 20-7.

Over that time period, the Bears have been the league’s best rushing team (239 ypg), the Sooners are second (228) and Kansas State is fourth (167).

There is a strong correlation there.

At his spring football news conference, Iowa State Coach Paul Rhoads said his team must run the ball better and his focus was on the offensive line.

“We want to be better at knocking people off the ball,” Rhoads said. “When we want to create our own space (in the run game), we want to be able to do that. We are trying to find our right five to get that accomplished.”

Offensive coordinator Mark Mangino – who tutors the tight ends – echoed Rhoads’ comments.

“We want to be an offense that can run the football and we’ve got to be more physical on the offensive line,” Mangino said. “Our coaching staff on offense has invested a lot of time studying our offensive line. The offensive line has gotten more of my attention than any other aspect in the off-season.”

When Mangino was the head coach at Kansas, his first team averaged 126 yards rushing. A year later, the Jayhawks improved their run average by 39 yards per game and went to the Tangerine Bowl. Mangino’s best KU team – the 2007 Orange Bowl club – ran for 189 yards per outing, the highest mark in his tenure there.

In a league with a pass-first reputation, it’s interesting to note the better running teams have won the most games.

The mission is well defined and spring practice is an opportunity to improve in this critical area.

New clubs spark record-setting victory for Fernandez

Fernandez, Scott_2013-14_2

Scott Fernandez debuted new golf clubs at the 2015 National Invitation Tournament in Arizona last week.

And, the result was a stunning seven-shot victory.

It was Fernandez’ fourth collegiate title, an Iowa State record. Earlier this season, the native of Spain won the Wisconsin Invitational to equal the school’s career win record jointly held by Nate McCoy, Jason Knutzon, Jeremy Lyons and Travis Korver.

The difference in this victory was the margin. Fernandez’ other three college wins were nail-biters.

Fernandez recorded 16 biridies on the way to posting scores of 70-66-69 at Tucson National.

His biridies came in flurries. The senior birdied his opening five holes (10-14) in round two. And, in the final 18, he extended a two-stoke lead by recording four consecutive biridies (holes 5-8).

The birdie barrage was helped by his excellent play off the tee with his new driver.

“Scott drove the ball beautifully all week,” Head Coach Andrew Tank said. “He was able to put the ball in positions to be aggressive and hit wedges well to give him a lot of birdie attempts.”

Better keep those new sticks in the bag. Hopefully, that can be a catalyst for even more titles.

Bounce back factor caught Hoiberg’s attention

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Another win over a nationally ranked opponent. That’s seven of them.

Another eardrum-splitting atmosphere in Hilton Coliseum. More magic.

The largest comeback victory in school history. It tied a 1998 game vs. Western Illinois.

A 58-point second half. That’s six 50-point halves this year.

And, a 22-0 scoring streak to turn the tables.

When Coach Fred Hoiberg was asked to describe how he felt during the amazing comeback, he deadpanned “well, I don’t know, fun?”

Fun, it was. Important, too.

“It was a great mental half and we needed it in a bad way,” Hoiberg said of outscoring Oklahoma 59-33 in the final 20 minutes. “We were, obviously, a team that was struggling and reeling a little bit after two losses.”

The Cyclones’ best week of the season (winning at Oklahoma State and Texas) was followed by its only two-game losing streak. Hoiberg wondered how his team would respond for a Big Monday match-up with the Sooners.

“You get one day to prepare and you wonder how your guys are going to respond. We didn’t respond great, obviously, but they sure turned it around. Hopefully, this is what we need to get our confidence back to the point where we can get some momentum going into the tournament.”

Three top ten wins is major ratings boost

WBB Seniors_2014-15

As March Madness quickly approaches, it’s pretty hard to avoid conversations about RPI, good wins, bad losses and strength of schedule.

The stat-heavy RPI rewards teams for playing strong opponents. Sometimes, a loss to a great foe pays more dividends than a win over an inferior opponent.

But, when you beat a great team then tourney prospects and RPI numbers really brighten. That’s the case for the Iowa State women’s basketball team.

A five-point Senior Day triumph over third-ranked Baylor came at just the right time for Bill Fennelly’s team.

“It doesn’t hurt (our tourney prospects),” Fennelly said after his team’s third win over a Top Ten school this season.

Iowa State is in the company of UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame and Tennessee as women’s programs with at least three victories over Top 10 schools.

The Huskies beat Notre Dame, Duke and South Carolina; the Gamecocks beat Duke, Kentucky and Tennessee; the Irish beat Tennessee, Duke and Louisville; and the Lady Vols beat Stanford, Oregon State, Texas A&M and Kentucky (twice).

UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame and Tennessee are among the small number of schools with realistic shots at No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Fennelly just wants to take his team to the dance for the ninth year in a row.

“Certainly it (the Baylor win) was a game – for the NCAA Committee – that gives us something to brag about,” Fennelly said.