- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - In 2014, Iowa State rose to heights it hadn’t seen in over a decade.

Coach Fred Hoiberg and the Cyclones might go even further in 2015.

Iowa State won the Big 12 tournament for the first time since 2000 in March, a thrilling three-day run through Kansas State, Kansas and Baylor. The Cyclones reached the Sweet 16 after a last-second win over North Carolina before falling to eventual national champion Connecticut.

Iowa State started this season at 9-1, including a 90-75 blowout of rival Iowa in Iowa City, and were ranked 12th as on Monday.

The Cyclones kick off Big 12 play on Jan. 6 against Oklahoma State. While the league is arguably the nation’s toughest, Iowa State is a legitimate threat to win its first Big 12 regular season title in 14 years.

Here were some of the other moments that defined Iowa sports in 2014.

HAWKEYES RISE…AND FALL: Iowa reached the top 10 in late January last season and appeared poised to fulfill its promise under fourth-year coach Fran McCaffery. But the Hawkeyes dropped six of their final seven Big Ten games and stumbled into the First Four matchup in the NCAA tournament, where it lost to Tennessee in overtime. The collapse on the court was overshadowed by the cancer diagnosis given to McCaffery’s 14-year-old son Pat in early March. Thankfully, doctors declared Pat cancer-free in June. Iowa got off to a disappointing start to 2014-15 as well. It will enter Big Ten season at 9-4 and in need of a major revival to return to the NCAA tournament.

WEST HOPES DASHED: A host of returning starters and a seemingly favorable schedule had many pegging Iowa among the favorites to win the inaugural Big Ten West title. But the Hawkeyes dropped close games against Wisconsin and Nebraska and finished the regular season at 7-5. Much like its basketball team, Iowa will face Tennessee in an unexpectedly underwhelming postseason game, the Taxslayer Bowl on Jan. 2.

FIELD HOCKEY FIRING: Iowa field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum was fired in August over allegations of player mistreatment, setting off protests from supporters who demanded that Griesbaum be reinstated. Griesbaum is planning legal action against the university, contending that athletic director Gary Barta discriminated against her and other gay female coaches. Barta has rejected discrimination claims. The Hawkeyes finished 11-7 under interim coach Lisa Cellucci.

CYCLONES STUMBLE AGAIN: Iowa State’s football team followed up a 3-9 season with a 2-10 one this fall, putting coach Paul Rhoads on the hot seat for 2015. The Cyclones allowed 38.8 points a game, and their offense struggled under first-year coordinator Mark Mangino. Iowa State will bring back a lot of starters next fall, along with a handful of highly touted junior college transfers who are expected to plug gaps. But unless the Cyclones improve drastically, they could be looking for a new head coach next December.

SPEEDWAY SUCCESS: NASCAR’s first year running the Iowa Speedway was a smooth one. Sprint Cup star Brad Keselowski and Sam Hornish Jr. won Nationwide races in Newton, and Ryan Hunter-Reay passed half the field in his final 10 laps to win the IndyCar event. The track will again host two races in the newly-branded NASCAR XFINITY series, along with IndyCar and trucks races, in 2015.

PARKER’S PASSING: Longtime Iowa coordinator Norm Parker, whose defenses were the cornerstone of the program’s success under head coach Kirk Ferentz, died in January at age 72. Parker spent 13 seasons under Ferentz, and his defenses routinely ranked among the nation’s best. Iowa State defensive assistant Curtis Bray died at the age of 43 just two days after Parker’s passing.

UNI REVIVAL: Northern Iowa appears set to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years. The Panthers got off to a 10-1 start, highlighted by a 56-44 win over the Hawkeyes in Des Moines on Dec. 20, and could threaten Wichita State for the Missouri Valley title.

I-CUBS ON THE RISE: The Triple-A Iowa Cubs didn’t even make the International League playoffs. But the list of players who went through Des Moines might look staggering in a few years. Third baseman Kris Bryant finished his remarkable season in Iowa, hitting 43 home runs with a .325 batting average overall. Middle infielders Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara also stopped by Des Moines before ending up in Chicago - and even Manny Ramirez spent a few months there as a hitting coach, mentor and part-time player.

DES MOINES LANDS THE NCAAs: Des Moines was selected to host the NCAA men’s basketball tournament for the first time, a further sign of the capital city’s rise in last 15 years. Wells Fargo Arena will host first and second-round games in 2016.

___

Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide