Volleyball begins year on low note: Iowa State shows promise in back-to-back defeats


Brian Mozey/Iowa State Daily

Outside hitter Victoria Hurtt spikes the volleyball at the Stanford players and earns a point for Iowa State. Hurtt also had two blocks against Stanford on Aug. 29. 

Harrison March

It was far from the ideal way to get the ball rolling on Christy Johnson-Lynch’s 10th season at the helm of the ISU volleyball team.

The Cyclones hosted No. 3 Stanford on Aug. 29 and No. 13 Florida State on Aug. 31 as part of the American Volleyball Coaches Association Showcase. Iowa State was swept in both matches, failing to win a set against either team.

“I feel like perhaps we bit off a little more than we could chew this weekend,” Johnson-Lynch said. “I think if we were a really experienced team returning a ton of key players then we might have been more comfortable in this situation. I think our inexperience at this level showed a little bit.”

Though the scoreboard reflected utter dominance, the Cyclones showed glimpses of what they could become as the season goes on.

After Stanford cruised to a 25-16 win in the first set, it appeared the second set would be much of the same when Stanford served for the set on a 24-11 lead. That was, until the Cyclone front line caught fire.

The Cyclones went on a 7-0 run that featured back-to-back kills from right side hitter Mackenzie Bigbee and another three kills from outside hitter Victoria Hurtt. The spark of offense would be for naught as Stanford’s All-American middle blocker Inky Ajanaku ripped home one of her 14 kills on the night to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

“I think we were just getting after it and being in attack mode and just wanting it more than they did at the time,” Hurtt said after the loss to Stanford. “We realized we’re not going to quit. We’re not going to quit, no matter if it’s 24-0. We’re going to keep playing hard, keep being in attack mode.”

Hurtt’s presence was felt beyond the late second-set run, as she led the Cyclones with 13 kills and chipped in two block assists. Following the match, Johnson-Lynch had high praise for the former Honorable Mention All-American.

“For Victoria Hurtt, [it was] one of the best matches I think I’ve seen her play,” Johnson-Lynch said. “That’s an elite blocking team and she led our team in kills, and I thought she just had a really nice night.”

In the third set, Iowa State managed to stay within a few points for a while before Stanford pulled away for the sweep. Part of the reason Iowa State was able to be competitive for longer in the third set was the height the ISU coaches added to the rotation.

Tory Knuth and Samara West, who stand at 6 feet 3 inches and 6 feet 4 inches tall, respectively, are the two tallest players on Iowa State’s roster. They were able to make an impact at the net that allowed the Cyclones a better chance to counter Stanford’s onslaught of attacks.

“I thought [Samara West] and Tory Knuth did a really nice job,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We’ve got four middles that we’re training right now. Samara and Tory have size … That was why we inserted them and thought they did a really nice job slowing down their offense enough to give us a chance to defend behind it.”

Knuth and West’s effect late against Stanford was enough for Johnson-Lynch to give them the starting nod against Florida State.

Knuth went on to post a solo block and block assist while West finished the match with a block assist, four kills and a team-high hitting percentage of .111. The start was West’s first in her college career, and she liked some of what she saw on the court early on.

“It was very exciting for me,” West said. “I just try to be available, be up, getting my arms ready and just be playing my best. I think we made good decisions hitting-wise, defense-wise [and] blocking.”

Even though losing the season’s first two games in straight sets could deflate some of the preseason excitement, Hurtt noted that the AVCA Showcase overall had a positive side.

“We want to be exploited right now so when tournament time comes, we know what we need to work on and we’re where we want to be,” Hurtt said. “We don’t want to lose, but we’d rather lose now and get the victories at the end [of the season].”

Moving forward, Johnson-Lynch said the focus for Iowa State will be to find which system and which group of players best suit this year’s team. She said that goal may not be realized until conference play begins in about a month and that until then, she has a message for her team.

“That’s on us as coaches. We’ve got to figure out who needs to be in there and how we can make the most of the talent we do have,” Johnson-Lynch said. “I asked our team to be patient and determined, but patient as we search for how we’re going to play … We will forge on.”