The ball is in Baier’s court
AMES – Madison Baier isn’t a starter.
And she played the fewest minutes of any Cyclone on last year’s roster.
Though with a lack of team height following the exodus of frontcourt stalwarts Chelsea Poppens and Anna Prins to the WNBA, the time Baier gives her team on the court this season could loom largest of all for Iowa State.
Adjusting to a four-guard attack that will revolve around 6-foot-3 forward Hallie Christofferson, Cyclone coach Bill Fennelly needs someone to give his all-Big 12 preseason selection a breather. Someone who can hold down the paint inside and provide another post presence. Someone who can maintain the status quo when the Cyclones’ star is off the floor.
Fennelly is rolling the ball in Baier’s direction. The opportunity is hers to take.
“Madi is someone that (has) to make a decision,” said Fennelly at the Iowa State women’s basketball media day at the Sukup Basketball Complex Wednesday.
“The decision is in her court – literally and figuratively. She could be a very, very important part of our team. We need a backup center. She might be playing the most important 5 or 6 minutes of the game of anyone on our team.”
Battling back from foot and ankle injuries during her freshman campaign, Baier is “100 percent injury-free” as she enters her sophomore season. After just 61 minutes on the court last year, the former South Tama County standout is ready to give Christofferson and the rest of the team a lift.
“I want to contribute to the team and help my teammates out,” said Baier, who saw improvements in her conditioning, strength and post play after a full offseason of training.
“Hallie can’t do it all, she’ll need breaks. My main goal is to try to get as many reps as I can so that when I get in, I can give Hallie that four-minute break that she needs.”
Christofferson believes Baier is ready for the expanded role, and is mentally tougher after working through last year’s injuries.
“At team workouts it’s been really visual that we’ve tried to get her going and that she has to take on a different role this year,” Christofferson said. “She embraces it and she will be ready when the time comes.
“She’s much stronger mentally than she was before. I think getting through all of (the injuries) really pushed her to see what her limits are. This year she’s more vocal on the team and she’s more comfortable.”
Baier was a source of energy for the Cyclones on the bench last season, though this year Fennelly needs Baier to bring that spark to the floor.
“She was someone that was a very positive part of our team last year and didn’t play a whole lot. But now it’s time to do that,” said Fennelly. “Now there’s an opportunity for her that’s very important to our team. … It doesn’t have to be anything great, it could be five or six minutes of just good defense and rebounding.”
Baier’s teammates have seen the 6-foot-4 center develop more of the necessary attributes for the larger role in practice.
“Her confidence has grown,” said junior point guard Nikki Moody. “In the post she’s getting more aggressive and becoming that player that will back somebody down and fight for the boards. She’s getting there.”
The Cyclones started practice Friday and Fennelly will use the coming weeks to determine how he’ll divide up the minutes with nine players listed at the guard position. Though with just three players standing taller than 6-foot, it’s inevitable Iowa State needs Baier’s post presence on the floor.
“Madi is one of those players we need minutes from,” said junior guard/forward Brynn Williamson. “Whether it be five, 10 or 15 – we need minutes from her. She’s a body down there that’s going to give us room to give some of the guards a break.”
In the end, Baier’s success won’t be measured by the numbers, but by the presence she provides in helping her team by any means necessary.
“At the end of the day, are you impacting the success of your team?” said Fennelly. “If (Madi) can do that, it’s going to be some of the most important five or six minutes every single night.”
Iowa State hosts Wayne State in its first exhibition Nov. 3 and opens the regular season against North Dakota at Hilton Coliseum on Nov. 10.