By Rob Gray
AMES — Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly knew Seanna Johnson could create, score and defend.
But the 5-10 freshman’s remarkable rebounding statistics?
He didn’t see those coming — not at the current rate, anyway.
“A little bit odd,” Fennelly said.
Johnson helps lead tenth-ranked ISU (9-0) into today’s 3:30 p.m. Cyclone Challenge game against Holy Cross (7-2) at Hilton Coliseum averaging a team-best 8.7 boards.
She grabbed a career-high 16 in the Cyclones’ 83-70 win over No. 25 Iowa on Dec. 12 and has racked up 41 rebounds in the past three games.
Again, she’s 5-10.
And a freshman.
“Effort,” Johnson said, echoing Fennelly’s one-word explanation for her big numbers. “It’s just knowing where the ball’s going to be and knowing where I have to be. Like boxing out. Just rebounding.”
There was no “just” used to qualify her 16-board performance against the Hawkeyes, though, despite the fact Johnson averaged 11 rebounds as a senior at DeLaSalle High School in Brooklyn Park, Minn.
“I feel like I can get 8-9 a game, but that was something that was surprising,” said Johnson, who stands as one of nine freshman in the nation to put up 8.7 boards per game or more.
Her prowess on the glass has helped offset the graduation of former stars Chelsea Poppens and Anna Prins.
Poppens averaged 9.7 rebounds as a senior.
Prins locked up 5.3 boards per game.
“We’ll see a lot more when January comes, but that’s been the thing all year — we’re so worried about, ‘Can we rebound, can we rebound’?” said Fennelly, whose team has built a plus-8 rebounding margin through nine games. “She’s kind of put a band-aid over that at least for now, that our numbers are decent and it’s kind of been her and Hallie (Christofferson), and from time to time, Kidd (Blaskowsky) gets a few and Nikki (Moody) gets a few. But there’s no question those two have basically taken care of that up to this point.”
Christofferson — who averages 24.2 points along with 8.3 rebounds — said Johnson showed her ability to scrap in the paint immediately in practice.
“She came in and just did exactly what we needed her to do,” said Christofferson, who is scoring at a higher clip than all but eight players in the country. “She really took it in stride.”
Then Johnson ran with it.
“The one thing about the women’s game as I’ve said many times is, I’ve never seen a kid rebound the ball above the rim, so the nature of our game is, who’s going to go get the ball?’” Fennelly said.
So far that’s been Johnson — with vocal support from Fennelly’s son, Billy, an ISU assistant.
“Always in practice, he was like, ‘Rebound, rebound,’” she said. “No matter where you’re at on the floor.”
NOTES: Fennelly said freshman guard Jadda Buckley “battled a bit of the flu” over the past week, but all his players were a full-go at Thursday night’s practice. … If ISU beats Holy Cross and the winner of the St. Louis/William & Mary game on Sunday afternoon, it will complete its third unblemished non-conference slate in Fennelly’s 18-plus seasons. The 1995-96 and 2000-01 teams started their respective seasons 12-0.
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