Iowa State’s Ashley Joens used a barn to hone her basketball skills in the COVID-19 pandemic


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Iowa State coach Invoice Fennelly sticks up for Ashley Joens who he believes is being guarded unfairly.

The Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Now and again final summer season, Kelly Larson wandered over to the two-story barn situated behind the household’s house to see what Ashley Joens and her sisters had been as much as.

Larson would lean over the ledge of the barn’s balcony and look down into the basement, the place a small basketball courtroom was situated. There was a weight bench within the nook, a trampoline in opposition to the wall and a batting cage off to the facet. Oh, and a regulation-size basketball hoop with blue tape on the bottom marking the free-throw line.

Larson would discover Joens, a star for the Iowa State girls’s basketball crew, swishing shot after shot whereas working away at her recreation along with her 4 sisters and her father, Brian. Joens, one of many prime returning gamers within the Huge 12 Convention, wanted a spot to follow throughout the summer season when gyms, faculties and follow amenities had been shut down throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. So Joens and her household would go to native parks, and even Iowa Metropolis Excessive Faculty athletic director Phillip Hansen’s home. However often they’d come to this barn, as a result of the Joenses and the Larsons had been household pals.

“It was fairly cool to have her right here,” Larson says as she walks across the empty courtroom on a chilly November day. “I used to be similar to, ‘You’re the woman within the Huge 12, and right here you’re taking pictures away and serving to your sisters.”  

Nothing was going to cease Joens this offseason.

She was coming off a powerful sophomore 12 months and was so decided to take that subsequent step that she did not care the place she labored out. More often than not, it meant driving about 15 minutes approach from her household’s Iowa Metropolis house  to the 10,000-foot sq. barn owned by the Larson household that’s sometimes used for work, rest and understanding. 

“We knew that although we had this time without work and we didn’t have a fitness center, that it’s nonetheless necessary that you simply’ve bought to maintain enhancing day by day,” Joens mentioned. “Even when it’s little issues like simply doing ball dealing with someday or stationary taking pictures even exterior with the wind, or something like that.”

Joens’ exercise regime is a part of the explanation why there are such a lot of excessive hopes for her and the top-20 Iowa State women’s basketball team this year. The Iowa Metropolis native is getting ready for maybe her largest season but when Iowa State hosts Omaha at midday Wednesday at Hilton Coliseum. 

Reaching the following objective, it doesn’t matter what

Shortly after the 2020 Huge 12 Convention event was canceled in March, Joens packed her baggage and headed house to Iowa Metropolis. She met up along with her dad and her sisters, who had been already at a neighborhood fitness center understanding. 

“I at all times create objectives for myself,” Joens mentioned. “My mother and father type of instilled that in me after I was youthful. Earlier than college would begin each 12 months, we’d at all times get a pocket book in elementary college and we’d at all times write down our objectives and every little thing. So, I type of continued that.”

Joens posts them on the bulletin board of her Ames condominium. Through the years, the objectives have modified. Throughout her first season, Joens needed to change into the Huge 12’s freshman of the 12 months. However one objective has at all times remained on the record: Win the Huge 12. Joens, who helped Iowa State to the Huge 12 event title recreation her freshman season, didn’t get an opportunity to perform the objective final season due to the coronavirus pandemic. This season created a new alternative, and new challenges.  

The pandemic despatched gamers throughout the nation scrambling house after campuses and gymnasiums closed. Joens, who couldn’t use Iowa State’s fitness center whereas a lot of the nation went into self-quarantine, needed to discover different methods to work out. She wasn’t going to be denied.

Joens comes from a household of basketball gamers. Her older sister Courtney performed at Illinois. Aubrey is a freshman on the Iowa State crew. Kelsey performs for Iowa Metropolis Excessive Faculty. Even 9-year-old Bailey is taken into account an up-and-comer. 

“We weren’t going to be stopped and we figured, if it was this tough for everyone to get an opportunity to shoot or to do something and we had been doing it, then we would be a lot additional forward of everyone else,” Brian Joens mentioned. “And as a substitute of constructing the excuse of, ‘Nicely, it is simply onerous to discover a place or it is too windy,’ we simply determined, ‘We’ll discover a place and get it finished.'” 

It wasn’t simple. 

Brian and the sisters went to Iowa Metropolis Excessive to run on the observe. They borrowed a bar from the highschool weight room to elevate earlier than finally shopping for their very own set. They performed kickball as a break from basketball. They went to Hansen’s home, Wetherby Park in Iowa Metropolis and even one other barn in North Liberty to make use of hoops. 

However some days it was chilly. Different, it was windy to stand up pictures. A number of the parks had coverings on the hoops to discourage folks from enjoying throughout the pandemic. The barn in North Liberty turned off limits because the pandemic bought worse, and the homeowners frightened about having too many individuals out and in. Iowa basketball star Kathleen Doyle was working on the market so the Joenses had been out of a spot.

However that did not cease them, particularly Ashley. 

“She was actually decided to enhance,” Aubrey mentioned. 

Contained in the barn

The Joenses have identified Kelly Larson and her husband, Swen Larson, for years. Courtney ran observe at Metropolis Excessive, whereas Kelly labored as an assistant. The 2 households additionally attend the identical church. So, when Brian heard the Larson household had a barn with a basketball hoop, he referred to as them up. 

It wasn’t your regular barn, although. It appears like one from the skin, sitting on the finish of an extended gravel street. The within is a completely totally different story.

Swen, a builder/developer, has an workplace upstairs. There’s additionally residing area, with a kitchen and bed room. Swen additionally has an worker who does woodworking there. The basement is the place the ring is. It is partly a play space for his or her daughter, who has a trampoline, and a exercise space for his or her sons with weights, a batting cage, ping pong table after which the ring. 

It was excellent for what the sisters wanted.

Brian would take the sisters to the barn most afternoons. One among them would shoot, whereas one other would rebound and one other would feed them pictures. They saved observe of their taking pictures percentages for comparability and competitors. The principle objective was to get higher, although. They usually all did, particularly Ashley, who broke down movie along with her father and studied how opponents had been guarding her final season.

Collectively, they got here up with some new strikes. 

“She seemed nice,” Brian mentioned. 

The sisters moved the trampoline to work in several spots on the courtroom. They shot over a cable line that saved the netting to the batting cage up. The main target was on stationary taking pictures because the cement flooring was slippery. Going through them day by day was an Iowa Hawkeyes brand behind the ring that the Larson household — diehard Iowa followers — had put up. It by no means bothered them. 

“I assume they had been in all probability simply too well mannered to say something,” Kelly mentioned. 

Brian, who owns an eatery on the town referred to as Joensy’s Restaurant, introduced tenderloins to Kelly as a thanks. The restaurant was the place Ashley labored when she was youthful, even utilizing breaks to do basketball drills. Brian provided to let Kelly’s children take part. Although they did not, they did make the most of having the Joenses there, watching them work. 

“It turned tremendous evident why they’re actually good,” Swen mentioned. “That is simply loads of drilling.” 

Getting ready for a giant season

The exercises went seven days every week. The women wakened earlier than their dad at 7 a.m. to start serving to with a youth basketball program run by Brian. The remainder of the day included understanding and dealing on the restaurant. It was nice bonding time for the 5, who not often have events to play collectively.

Nobody might have benefited from the time greater than Ashley Joens, who’s gearing up for maybe her largest season but. Iowa State, which was picked to complete third within the Huge 12, was ranked No. 18 within the USA Right now coaches’ preseason ballot and 15th by The Related Press. Joens, who has began her first two seasons and is coming off a 12 months that noticed her common 20.5 factors and 10.9 rebounds per recreation, is a giant motive why expectations are so excessive. Joens is on a barrelful of preseason award watch lists.

“She’s only a implausible participant,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey mentioned throughout the Huge 12 teleconference earlier this month.

However Joens could also be simply scratching the floor. She’s gotten higher each season, and Iowa State coach Invoice Fennelly expects nothing totally different now, particularly after all of the onerous work Joens logged throughout the summer season. Fennelly mentioned he even sees professional potential in Joens. 

“She’s bought the toughness, the aggressive spirit, the love of the sport to be that type of participant, and he or she’s labored onerous to change into that,” Fennelly mentioned.

Now that Joens and her teammates are again on campus and have a spot to go, the onerous work hasn’t stopped. Joens is aware of that if Iowa State goes to have a giant season, she must as properly. 

“It is actually nice to be checked out as such a high-profile crew, however you possibly can’t actually get caught up in that,” Joens mentioned. “You simply need to maintain working and getting higher every day and attempting to enhance.” 

Tommy Birch, the Register’s sports activities enterprise and options reporter, has been working on the newspaper since 2008. He is the 2018 Iowa Sportswriter of the 12 months. Attain him at tbirch@dmreg.com or 515-284-8468. Comply with him on Twitter @TommyBirch.