Roster of young ISU volleyball team can ‘absolutely’ make NCAA tournament run


Brian Achenbach/Iowa State Daily

Sophomore defensive specialist Caitlin Nolan digs a ball during Iowa State’s 3-2 victory over Texas Tech on Oct. 30 at Hilton Coliseum.

Clint Cole

There is just less than a month of regular-season volleyball left to play before the first round of the NCAA tournament, which is set to begin on Dec. 5.

The ISU volleyball team’s roster this season is made up 10 combined underclassmen, five freshmen and five sophomores, and only four upperclassmen, two juniors and two seniors, which makes a significant amount of NCAA tournament experience hard to come by for this year’s team.

ISU coach Christy Johnson-Lynch, however, didn’t hesitate when talking about whether or not such a young team is capable of making a big run in the tournament.

“Absolutely,” Johnson-Lynch said. “One of the great things that can happen with a young team is they can make that jump late. When you’re older, your improvement kind of slows down, and the curve isn’t as sharp. When you’re young, sometimes those jumps can happen quickly, and you can take a big jump even late in the season.”

Johnson-Lynch said that’s one of the exciting things about having such a young team.

“Jenelle Hudson can still get a lot better, and she could take a big jump here in the next few weeks, and that would make a significant impact on the team,” Johnson-Lynch said. “I don’t know if Kristen Hahn can get much better because she’s already so good, but with Jenelle or Tory Knuth or Ciara [Capezio], those people who aren’t very experienced have the ability to kind of take our team to another level over the next few weeks just because they’re going to get a lot better.”

Last season the Cyclones had six upperclassmen, two juniors and four seniors, on the roster when they made a run to the Sweet 16 where they were swept by No. 2 Stanford in Berkeley, Calif. The season before that, they made it all the way to the Elite Eight with eight upperclassmen — four juniors, four seniors — on the team, before being beaten out in five sets by No. 21 Florida State.

ISU senior middle blocker Tenisha Matlock has been to the NCAA tournament three times now, including the Elite Eight run her sophomore year, the Sweet 16 run her junior year and a first-round loss to Creighton her freshman year. When it comes to getting ready for the tournament this year, Matlock said they haven’t really talked about it, but she is still helping the younger players get ready for it.

“There’s some certain keys during the game that I do to get other people going if I know they’re down,” Matlock said. “If I know Capezio’s down, I know she’s not going to look me in the eye, so I make her literally look me in the eye and see if she smiles or not and make sure she’s on the right track.”

ISU sophomore defensive specialist Caitlin Nolan said that preparing for the tournament sophomore year is a little different than freshman year.

“I think freshman year is kind of like you’re not really sure what’s going on; so this year, I can kind of take a deep breath a little bit and know kind of what I’m getting into,” Nolan said. “So I guess more of like a calming feeling going in.”

The Cyclones have five more Big 12 matches before the NCAA tournament. Two of those will be at Hilton Coliseum, against No. 23 Kansas and No. 1 Texas.