March 13, 2023 

Ashley Joens: The calmest Cyclone in the storm

Joens leads Iowa State to a Big 12 Tournament title, earns MVP honors

March brings out the passion in college basketball. We see it from the fans who live and die with every shot, turnover, and each “no-call” under the basket. We see it from the coaches who pour everything they have into each scouting report and possession on the floor. We get a glimpse from players as to what makes them go – their energy, intensity, and elation after a hard-fought “and-1” goes down. Yet there are some players that are the calm amongst the storm, the stoic ones who never allow you to see their emotions, no matter how hot their blood may be boiling. Cool, calm, and collected – just what the coach ordered.

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The Big 12 Women’s Basketball Tournament finals in Kansas City were Sunday, March 11, with the third matchup of the season between No. 1 seed Texas and No. 3 seed Iowa State – they split the home and home series this year. This post-season conference tournament was played at Municipal Auditorium for the final time this week and if you did not check your GPS, then you may have thought you had missed the exit off I-35 for downtown KC. “Hilton South” was in full effect at on Sunday afternoon, a cardinal and gold display of passionate fans that love their women’s basketball team. What they got was a complete team performance from their Cyclones led by none other than the 2023 Big 12 Player of the Year, Ashley Joens. Joens and her teammates battled to a 61-51 victory over the Longhorns, making it the third Big 12 tournament title for Iowa State.

“I really think it’s one of those things where the one thing we talked with Ashley about as she was finishing was the great players show up at the biggest moments,” Head Coach Bill Fennelly said after the title celebration. “She doesn’t need any validation by any means, but when you lead a team to tournament championship, you’re in rarified air there. I think that was something she was focused on when we came down here.”

Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark presented Iowa State’s Ashley Joens with her 2023 Player of the Year award before the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament on March 10, 2023. (Photo credit: Scott D. Weaver/Big 12 Conference)

Joens was one of the most decorated players in Iowa State history before she decided to return for her fifth season in Ames. As the year took off, one of the quietest players in the Big 12 was continuing to make noise with her game. Fennelly brought in 6’6 post transfer Stephanie Soares to give his team a rim protector and multi-dimensional scorer. Along with junior guards Lexi Donarski and Emily Ryan, this group would prove to be as tough a lineup as any in the league. Soares’ season was cut short with an ACL injury in January and Joens again became the focus of every scouting report. But the best-kept secret in Big 12 country is whether it bothered the All-American guard. Cool, calm, and collected – just what the Cyclones needed.

Iowa State finished the regular season 19-9 overall, 11-7 in Big 12 play and along the way, Joens broke record after record, becoming the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in Iowa State history. She continues to set new records every time she hits the floor, including career double-doubles, career games played, and career three-pointers made just to name a few. In three games at the Big 12 Tournament, Joens averaged 26.7 points and 11 rebounds per game in 39 minutes a game on the floor. No one seemed to have the answer to getting her stopped this week.

“Well, I think she takes 20 shots, made eight of them, got to the free throw line 11 times. It’s what they put around her. You can’t bring any help on her because those kids can all shoot it,” Texas Head Coach Vic Schaefer said after the loss. “She’s had a great career at Iowa State. Seems like a great kid, too, just an ultimate competitor. We’ve had our hands full with her. She’s scored on us my three years at Texas; I’m not the only one though, trust me.”

After another double-double performance (28 points and 10 rebounds) Joens was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2023 Big 12 Tournament. The moment was not lost on the Iowa City, IA, native. “It means a lot. Obviously, I got the opportunity to come back, and to be able to do it with this team and these coaches is as good as it gets. They work as hard as they can and are able to come out every day and compete. I don’t know how much sleep the coaches have gotten all weekend, but they put in a lot of effort to help prepare us and get us to where we are today.”

As the game clock ticked down to under one minute, Joens found herself calmly stepping to the free throw line, looking to seal the first Big 12 Tournament title for her school since 2001. The passionate Cyclone fan base knew what was coming when they started the “MVP” chant. “I knew I had to make the free throws, of course, but I could hear them, and it was special just to know that we had kind of pulled away,” she said with a smile.

Iowa State is bringing back some hardware and ticket to the 2023 NCAA Tournament to the faithful in Ames.
Their next stop – Knoxville, TN, and a game against No. 12 seed Toledo. (Photo credit: Scott D. Weaver/Big 12 Conference)

One of the most collected and cool under pressure players in the nation delivered on a big stage in Kansas City this week, surrounded by passionate Cyclones at every turn. Iowa State has punched its dance card to the 2023 NCAA Tournament as the No. 5 seed in the Seattle 3 Regional. The Cyclones will play the No. 12 seed Toledo, winners of 16 straight and the MAC Tournament title. But no matter how exhausted, you can bet Joens cracked a smile of relief when the brackets were revealed. Her head coach is most definitely beaming with pride as his team heads into March Madness.

“It never gets old. Besides Christmas it’s the greatest day of the year for me, Selection Sunday,” Fennelly shared. “And to see Iowa State come up on the board representing this league, it’s an amazing thing. Really proud of our team.”

Written by Missy Heidrick

I am a former shooting guard at Kansas State and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!

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