ISU volleyball season bows out with ‘good achievements’ among scattered wins


No. 6 senior libero Kristen Hahn returns a serve against Colorado on Dec. 6 at the Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis, MN. Colorado topped ISU 3-1, ending ISU’s season. Hahn went out with her 68th straight match with 10 or more digs. She claimed 20 digs against Colorado. 

Mike Randleman

 After making a Sweet 16 run in 2012 and receiving a top-25 ranking headed into the 2013 season, expectations were high for the ISU volleyball team.

Although glimpses of success were scattered throughout the season, the Cyclones (18-11, 11-5 Big 12) bowed out in the first round of the NCAA tournament and recorded their lowest win percentage since the 2008 season.

“It hurts because you’ve set the bar so high,” said ISU coach Christy Johnson-Lynch after the Cyclones’ season-ending loss to Colorado. “We’ve been to the Sweet 16 a couple times and the Elite Eight. Anything less than that feels disappointing.”

Iowa State began the season ranked 15th in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Poll, though perhaps more as a result of the pedigree the program has achieved in recent years.

This year’s team lost five members from its 2012 squad, forcing several young players to take on advanced roles.

The Cyclones received senior leadership from three-time Big 12 Libero of the Year winner Kristen Hahn but also started three underclassmen.

In what could be regarded as a rebuilding year, Johnson-Lynch was proud of her team for making the NCAA tournament.

“I think to get back to this point was a good achievement,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We had a lot of new people out there on the floor tonight [against Colorado] and players that had never been in this environment before.”

Though Iowa State earned its eighth-straight NCAA tournament appearance, the young Cyclones struggled against top competition, winning only one match against a top-25 opponent (a win at No. 22 Kansas).

Iowa State was, however, able to take care of business against unranked opponents as well as within the conference.

The Cyclones were 17-4 against unranked opponents and 11-5 in the Big 12, good for a tie at third place in the conference.

A late season seven-match win streak — six of which came against Big 12 foes — pushed Iowa State into Big 12 title contention, as well as a chance at hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.

The team appeared to be hitting on all cylinders, with four out of seven wins during the streak coming as shutouts.

Iowa State was unable to continue its dominance in closing out the season, dropping three of its last four matches, as well as its shot at a Big 12 title or home court for the NCAAs.

Even with a late season stumble, the Cyclones finished 23rd in the final NCAA RPI rankings and were selected to play in Minneapolis against Colorado.

“I’m just excited to go back,” said senior libero Hahn before the tournament. “We always bring a good crowd, and it’s close for us. It’s a great place to play volleyball.”

Upperclassmen on the team had played once before at the Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis in 2011 in the NCAA regional finals.

“I think it’s a great draw for us in terms of playing in Minnesota,” Johnson-Lynch said before the tournament. “I love not having to get on a plane. I think that is such a huge advantage. You can’t ask for more than that.”

Despite the advantages Iowa State had on its side, the Cyclones fell victim to a strong Colorado attack.

Iowa State won the first set in dominating fashion, but little else went right from that point.

Colorado stormed back to take the next three straights, ultimately ending Iowa State’s season on a cold December night in Minneapolis.

“It was a little tough. It was hard to take off the jersey,” Hahn said after the match. “I’m so thankful for this opportunity. I would not be the person I am today without my coaches and teammates and these experiences.”

Iowa State will return 5-of-7 starters and will bring in a heralded recruiting class of three players.

Despite the returning talent heading into 2014, Johnson-Lynch knows replacing Hahn and senior starting middle blocker Tenisha Matlock will not come easy.

“Those two people have carried us and done so much for the program over the last four years, and we have to replace them now,” Johnson-Lynch said. “That’s going to be hard to do.”