Ashley Joens’ return to Iowa State was met with widespread joy in Ames, Iowa, but the impact can be felt well beyond the friendly confines of the 515 area code.
Joens chose to trigger her COVID eligibility year on Monday, meaning she’ll return for a fifth season in 2022-23. In doing so, she chose not to head to the WNBA, where she might have been a first-round pick in the WNBA Draft next month. But, the league will be waiting for her after next season.
So what is the impact of one of the nation’s best players returning next season? There are plenty of ripples.
Let’s just say you’re not totally convinced that Joens is the G.O.A.T. of Iowa State women’s basketball (maybe you’re an Angie Welle or a Bridget Carleton stan). She gets to spend all of next season convincing you otherwise. She’s already Iowa State’s all-time leading scorer and she can make that record impossible to reach. She could also become Iowa State’s all-time leading rebounder and move up the Big 12 all-time scoring list (she’s No. 7). If one more season like the last four doesn’t convince you that she’s the best player in program history, well, I don’t know what to tell you.
We’ll dive a little deeper into this in our season wrap later this week, but her return means the Cyclones will have back just about every significant contributor from the Sweet 16 team. That means Joens, All-Big 12 First Team guards Emily Ryan and guard Lexi Donarski (the latter of which was also Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year), guard Aubrey Joens (Ashley’s sister) and the rest of the roster will be back. The Cyclones have a chemistry you can’t buy.
The Big 12
Joens figures to be the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year. Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee will probably grab a few votes, but Joens figures to snag that award and even more preseason attention than ever before. That means more preseason attention for Iowa State, too. As for the Big 12 race, the Cyclones have to be seen as a co-favorite along with Texas. Baylor and Oklahoma figures to be in the mix, too. Meanwhile, expect no worse than a Top 15 national ranking in the preseason. The Cyclones are trying to break some long streaks in the Big 12. The Cyclones haven’t won a Big 12 regular-season crown since 2000 and a Big 12 Tournament title since 2001. All of that is in sight.
The NCAA Tournament
Joens isn’t coming back just for fun and to play another season with her little sister. She said it herself in her tweet — “This team is special. We have more to accomplish.” The Cyclones reached the Sweet 16 this season, their first trip there since 2010. But the Cyclones have been to the Elite Eight twice, the last time coming in 2009. The Final Four? Well, never. Joens is coming back for a run to greatness, not just a run to the same place the Cyclones reached this year.
The Missing Piece
The Cyclones have a lot of talent, but they also have a chance to help themselves out in the offseason with the transfer portal, assuming the Cyclones have a scholarship left to give. What do they need? It needs to be a piece that makes Joens’ life, and the lives of her teammates, a little bit easier. From an outsider’s perspective, the Cyclones could use rebounding. Joens was not only the Cyclones’ leading scorer but their leading rebounder. Bringing in extra depth in the frontcourt would take some of that load off Joens and give the Cyclones more rebounding options inside. It feels like the last piece Iowa State needs to make the kind of run Joens is coming back for.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.