Ashley Joens had a hectic summer last year, an exciting freshman season, and has had a busy May. But for the next few weeks, things are as calm as ever and just like they used to be: Joens is back in her native Iowa City, working out each day with her dad and all of her sisters at her old high school gym.
Oldest sister Courtney is home from Illinois, set to begin her senior season with the Fighting Illini, while younger sisters Aubrey and Kelsey are preparing for their senior and freshman seasons, respectively, at City High. Even youngest sister, Bailey, who is elementary-aged, will work out with the rest of them.
“We’re all back now, so we all get to play together again, get to compete against each other. You can just see how much all of us have grown through even this last year,” Joens told the Tribune.
Last summer, Joens won a gold medal with the USA U18 team in Mexico, and was hoping for a similar fate this summer. She spent last weekend in Colorado trying out for the USA U19 World Cup team, but did not make the 12-player roster; instead, she is one of six alternates for the team.
She was an alternate for the squad last year but was called up, eventually earning a captainship and averaging 10.7 points per game. With that experience, plus a strong first year in Ames in which she landed on the Big 12’s all-Freshman team, she had hoped to make the USA roster this summer.
“I was a little disappointed because being on the team last year after being an alternate, I felt like I had a pretty good shot at getting back on the team this year,” she told the Tribune, “but just to be considered as an alternate is an honor.”
Joens will stay in Iowa City until mid-June, at which point she’ll return to Ames for workouts, unless a welcomed wrench is thrown into her plans; like last year, if an alternate is needed, she may get a call to join the USA team.
Joens spent the first part of May in Las Vegas, competing in the USA 3-on-3 national championship, and then later reported to Colorado Springs for the USA U19 tryout.
ISU coach Bill Fennelly noted the benefit of exposure to such competition, which can only help Joens as she takes on a bigger role this season. After graduating their top two playmakers from last season in Bridget Carleton and Alexa Middleton, the Cyclones will look to players like Joens to shoulder a heavier load.
“The challenge for Ashley is, she’s gotta make the next step. All great players make another step, and she can’t just be a role player,” Fennelly said.
Joens shot the ball well last year, but will be asked to expand her offensive toolkit this year. Recently, Fennelly showed Joens how her stats compared with Carleton’s freshman season, and the numbers were fairly parallel — 11.7 points, 5.0 rebounds for Joens; 12.0 points, 6.7 rebounds for Carleton.
“You can just see the similarities and how her career went,” Joens told the Tribune. “So just to try and keep improving and follow in the same footsteps as her, so that I can be on the same path, as well.”
ISU target makes USA team
Two other Iowans joined Joens in the field of 30 players seeking a spot on the U19 team: Davenport native Chrislyn Carr, of Texas Tech, and Dowling Catholic’s Caitlin Clark, an Iowa State target.
After six separate 2.5 hour tryout sessions over the long weekend, the USA hopefuls sat in a room in Colorado Springs on Sunday where they were read aloud a list of those who had made the team. Carr, the Big 12 freshman of the year, did not make the team, but Clark did.
The rising senior won gold two years ago as a member of the USA U16 team in Buenos Aires, and is excited to make the World Cup team this year.
“Anytime you get to wear USA across your chest, it’s just an honor. I’m excited to be able to do it again,” Clark told the Tribune.
She’ll spend essentially the entire month of July with Team USA: practicing in Colorado, scrimmaging in Japan, and then competing in Thailand. Because of that, she won’t be able to try to defend her national title with the Ames-based All Iowa Attack club during the heart of their summer season, but she has a rather strong excuse.
“It was definitely kind of bittersweet,” Clark told the Tribune. “I got a little emotional about it, especially telling (coach) Dickson (Jensen), but obviously he understands.”
A well-rounded scorer with a devastating stepback and finishing ability, Clark is a nationally coveted prospect, currently ranked No. 4 in the class by ESPN. She said she has not narrowed her list of schools yet, but plans to make a decision before her senior season begins.
“At this point, I kind of just want to focus on playing for USA and then come home and see what I do with my official (visits), and then make a decision after that,” she told the Tribune.
She did divulge, however, that ISU is still in the mix.
Kristin Scott’s USA May
Like Joens, Kristin Scott spent her May in both Las Vegas and Colorado Springs, Colo. The duo, along with the team’s third returning starter, Maddie Wise, plus graduated Alexa Middleton, competed in the 3-on-3 national championship. They fell just before the quarterfinals, losing to UConn 17-14.
Then, Scott also had a USA tryout in Colorado. The junior-to-be was one of 36 players competing for 12 roster spots on the USA Pan American Games Team, but did not make the squad.
Joens, Wise and Scott combined to average 32.5 points per game last year, and will be asked to take on an even larger chunk next season.
Fennelly has told each of them, “You need to be the first player on the other team’s scouting report.”
During the strong 2018-19 campaign, the Cyclones leaned heavily on Carleton and Middleton. This season, they’re expected to lean more on those three key returners.
“That’s the thing about having Bridget and Lex is, we had a safety net. We’re playing without a net now,” Fennelly said.