ISU women fighting for Big 12 title and future for female athletes

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AMES, Iowa — The phrase “play like a girl” took on a powerful meaning Tuesday afternoon inside Hilton Coliseum. “I’ve never had this experience before so it is really crazy,” said Ankeny Heritage Elementary 5th grade student Ali Aguirre.

The Cyclones’ season opener was a “Field Trip Day” for 17 elementary and middle schools from across the state to watch the 12th-ranked women take on Omaha. “It’s my first time ever coming here. Pretty nice. First time ever at a basketball game,” said 5th grade student named Aidenn Berg. Fellow 5th grader Micah Hagerty said, “It’s just so cool that I get to be here.”

Head coach Bill Fennelly understands the kids may not always know when to cheer. “They won’t know if we won or lost. They don’t care,” he said laughing.

The thousands of kids were perhaps more concerned with the the massive baby shark sing along and the sound of the buzzer. Fennelly said, “They like counting down the clock. That was a big thing for them. They are learning their math today.”

The game’s impact was far deeper than the range of an Ashley Joens three pointer. “I think it’s great that the kids can come out and see a game. A lot of little girls are out there and they are watching a college basketball game for the first time so you just hope to inspire them,” said All-American senior Ashley Joens.

According to 25 years of research from the Women’s Sports Foundation, by the age of 14 girls drop out of sports at two times the rate of boys. The findings cite a lack of funding for female sports, stereotypes surrounding female athletes and the perception that male sports are more exciting to watch. They are all factors that Tuesday’s game hopes to eliminate for a future generation. Joens said, “Maybe they’ll start playing basketball or want to get into it a little more or just play sports in general.”

For Aguirre, it provided inspiration for her future. “To see how they work super hard and I want to be like them,” she said.

As the Cyclones fight for a Big 12 title, they are also fighting for a brighter tomorrow in women’s sports. “Everything we do we will make sure we are here for them,” Fennelly said. Sophomore guard Lexi Donarski added, “They bring a lot of energy into all of Hilton. We just hope we can inspire some of them.”

This was the fifth time ISU has hosted the event. Last year the event was canceled due to the pandemic.

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