In preparation for the upcoming 2014 season, head women’s basketball coach Brian Niemuth and assistant coach, Adam Urness, took the short trip to Ames on Oct. 10 to take in an Iowa State women’s basketball practice, hoping to take away some insight from Coach Bill Fennelly’s Cyclone team.
This was yet another edition of the annual trip Niemuth and his coaching staff has taken to Iowa State, the fruits of a longstanding relationship between Fennelly and Niemuth.
“I’ve known Coach Fennelly for a long time,” Niemuth said. “He’s been very gracious in letting us watch his practice. I enjoy watching what they do and how they teach things.”
Fennelly, who took over at Iowa State in 1995, has lead the Cyclones to 15 NCAA Tournament appearances including three Sweet 16 appearances, one Elite 8 finish, and two Big 12 conference championships, all the while coaching 12 future WNBA draft picks.
Niemuth and the Simpson women’s basketball program pounced on this opportunity to reap from such a successful Division I program, an opportunity that the likes of IIAC schools don’t have due to a lack of proximity to nearby Division I programs. In this case, one could argue that success breeds success.
“We have a relationship because there is a lot of respect there,” Urness said. “But the thing that a lot of people here at Simpson don’t realize is the success Coach Niemuth has had. He’s the winningest coach in the state of Iowa at any level. In terms of mutual respect those guys [Niemuth and Fennelly] have it great. Success knows success.”
Despite the difference in NCAA division, both Niemuth and Urness feel that the two programs reflect one another in style of play and personnel, allowing the Storm coaching staff to reap even more from observing the Cyclones practice.
“We are both up and down teams in style of play,” Urness said. “We like to shoot the ball and we have very positive atmospheres. We are able to take some concepts out of Iowa State’s offense in terms of individual sets, motions, or even practice skills. We are both players first programs, with a lot of attention on individuals.”
While Niemuth expressed that they didn’t head into practice “looking for anything in particular”, he remarked that they aren’t wary of stealing motions and sets from the Cyclones.
The women’s basketball team will likely be running some of the same sets you would see run just 50 miles north in Ames, as Niemuth and Urness came away with a couple plays and variations of sets already implemented by the Storm women’s basketball team. But Niemuth always remembers that as much as the strategy influences the outcome of the game, less can be more.
“When I see how they [Iowa State] teach it and how their players learn, I’ve learned to keep it simple,” Niemuth said. “You always tell yourself that, but in your mind you often think that the more intricate your coaching, the more special the result. It’s actually the opposite. The simpler you keep it, the more you let your players use their ability.”
While this ‘ability’, often translated as raw athleticism in the basketball lexicon, may come in greater doses at Division I programs like Iowa State, the passion and skill level doesn’t waver much at the top-tier of Division III women’s basketball.
“One of the things I noticed about a Division I practice is the intensity and focus,” Urness said. “When you get to Division I, the passion and love of the game is about the same as Division III. What I love about Simpson athletes is that they go out there for the love of the game, not to keep a scholarship. The players are just bigger, faster, and stronger. Being at Drake, I don’t think the skill is that different.”
Iowa State women’s basketball, who began team practices only two weeks ago, gets the benefit as a Division I program of practicing against a full practice squad of male players, something Fennelly believes primes his talent for in-game competition.
While Simpson women’s basketball cannot use the same measures, Niemuth believes that his team’s depth and experience generates the competitive practices that produce records like the 84-29 run the Storm women’s basketball team has been on in the past four years.
“We’ll have more depth with everyone coming back and adding our newcomers. I think this will create some pretty competitive practices,” Niemuth said. “This will make us better.”
The Storm women’s team only lost one senior varsity player from last year’s 14-12 team: forward Morgan Terpstra. Simpson will also bring in a Division II transfer from Truman State to add to the fold as they bring a battle-tested team into play due to heavy freshman and sophomore classes from last year.
While being deep in the backcourt and possessing versatile forwards, the women’s basketball team will have to adjust their style of play as they search for a reliable player in the post.
“This year we don’t have a dominant back to the basket player, but we have a lot of versatile and athletic forwards and a lot of depth at guard,” Urness said. “Our forwards are very athletic and can do a lot of things. The difference is we just don’t have the dominant back to the basket player that you can dump it into, and no rim protector.”
As Simpson searches for that key post player, Fennelly will also be working to find one to feature, perpetuating the similarities between the two teams beyond the fact that they both sport crimson and gold.
“Iowa State is struggling to find a center, and I don’t think that’s a negative thing,” Urness said. “You just have to adjust and not be stuck in your ways.”
With just over a week of practices under the women’s basketball team’s belt and another three weeks before they tip off for the first time on Nov. 15, Niemuth and the rest of his staff will have time to implement what they’ve picked up from Coach Fennelly at Iowa State, both this year and in years in the past.
“Coach Fennelly is really open to us to let us observe practice considering there are some coaches that are really secretive,” Urness said. “He’s been amazing. This practice definitely got us [the coaching staff] excited to go. I think it’s going to be an exciting team that puts a lot of points on the board this year.”