AMES — The Iowa State women’s basketball team built a 20-point lead in last Saturday’s win over Kansas with 4:47 left when Cyclones coach Bill Fennelly decided to take point guard Emily Ryan out of the game.
Ryan had played virtually the entire game up to that point, recording eight rebounds, six assists and four points, when Fennelly finally felt comfortable sitting on top of one of his most important players.
“There’s something about having her in the game that puts everyone at ease,” Fennelly said. “That’s a good thing, especially for me.”
Iowa State’s star junior Ryan became the Iron Woman of the Big 12 Conference this season by amassing more minutes than anyone in the league. She’ll get a few more when the 17th-ranked Cyclones (13-4 overall and 5-2 in Big 12 games) take on Texas Christian (6-12 overall, 0-7 in Big 12 games) Wednesday at 6:30 p.m 12) play pm
“I’m just trying to do my job and whatever the team needs,” Ryan said. “If I play 40 minutes, that’s what I’ll do. And if the team needs me there less, I will do that.”
The Cyclones have used Ryan almost every minute on the court during the 2022-23 season. Aside from a few one-sided victories during the non-conference season, the Cyclones have played one of the toughest game schedules in the nation, with an abundance of close games. And they’ve leaned heavily on Ryan, who leads the Big 12 at 35.3 minutes per game.
“She’s the leader of our team,” Fennelly said. “She leads our team. There is no one on our team that everyone and everyone trusts more.”
Iowa State basketball wowed fans in a Kansas town thanks to Emily Ryan
Ryan keeps his feet on the ground for a long time and is usually in control of what the state of Iowa does. The 5ft 11 guard is so important and so trustworthy that Fennelly even lets her call play out on the court. Things worked out well for Ryan, who was already one of the nation’s top point guards last season. She ranks second in the Big 12 for assists per game (6.9) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2).
“She’s the perfect teammate because she doesn’t want to be in the game to get points and get more stats,” Fennelly said. “That’s not what she’s about. She wants to be in the game because she knows the other four people in the game and the entire coaching staff trusts her with everything.”
Ryan’s value has only increased over the course of the season. With starter Stephanie Soares suffering a cruciate ligament rupture at the end of the season, Fennelly had to rotate through the postal players with Nyamer Diew, Morgan Kane and Izzi Zingaro. Ryan, Ashley Joens, Lexi Donarski and Denae Fritz have become mainstays in the starting XI. Joens and Donarski are second and fourth in the Big 12 in minutes played. But Ryan, a strong defender, ball carrier and shooter, outclasses them all.
That’s fine by Ryan.
“She doesn’t want to sit,” Fennelly said. “She wants to play.”
Fennelly said they had to look for ways to avoid fatigue. He said it comes up at every staff meeting. Sometimes they let Donarski put the ball on the ground. They have also tried to limit Ryan’s use in practice. But that’s not easy as Ryan is widely known as one of the team’s hardest working players. Fennelly joked that he would have to lock the practice facility to prevent her from coming in on her own.
“I try to go to the gym as much as possible just to put myself in a position to help the team in as many ways as possible,” Ryan said.
Ryan credits Iowa State’s intense practice, which is in full swing, and the team’s work with strength and conditioning coach Cassandra Baier-Pyszczynski for helping her prepare for the Big 12 grind. Ryan says she doesn’t even think about how her minutes are piling up right now. Which is good because the Cyclones plan to keep them grounded a lot. And she seems up to the difficult task.
“I think she’ll be fine,” Fennelly said.
Tommy Birch, the Register’s sports company and reporter, has worked at the newspaper since 2008. He is the 2018 and 2020 Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. You can reach him at [email protected] or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.