Cyclones rebound behind freshman standout

Cory Weaver

The big question that loomed after Mackenzie Bigbee’s performance in the Comcast Lady Vol Classic last weekend was if she could lead the team in kills again.

The freshman right side hitter was unable to replicate that success against No. 19 Illinois on Friday, but answered back with record-tying numbers the following day en route to No. 15 Iowa State’s first ranked win of the season.

“Because [Bigbee] had struggled the night before, knowing what kind of person she is and what kind of competitor she is, I thought odds were she was going to have a really good night,” said coach Christy Johnson-Lynch.

But Bigbee wasn’t the only player to struggle Friday night. The Cyclones (2-3, 0-0 Big 12) were swept out of the gym for the first time since losing 3-0 to Texas last October and nobody was able to get into a rhythm.

The Illinois defense was in part to blame, limiting the Cyclones to a dismal .096 hitting rate and Johnson-Lynch said her team didn’t do what it was supposed to do.

“All the things we wanted to do, that we said we would do, we really didn’t execute,” Johnson-Lynch said.

Saturday was a different story.

The Cyclones returned to Huff Hall and Bigbee was eager to make up for her play the night before.

“Obviously I didn’t mentally prepare myself for the match on Friday, so always coming back and doing well after having a tough game really is a nice feeling,” Bigbee said.

Following the advice of the coaching staff to not avoid the block like she did on Friday, Johnson-Lynch’s hunch that the freshman would have a big game came true — 25 kills later.

“She had two blockers on her almost every time, but she just hit her usual shot,” Johnson-Lynch said. “She hit very high; she hit down the line; she hit the cross court; and she was really aggressive. So she was pretty amazing.”

Setter Alison Landwehr set up the majority of those kills. The performance tied the ISU freshman record for kills in a match and Landwehr said she realized early on it would be a special night.

“This whole year, she’s proven herself to be a big part of our offense so I think initially, my thought of every match is to try to get her going, and when I see that she is hot and she can keep going,” Landwehr said. “It’s just so nice to be able to [go] anywhere from the court; I can chuck a ball back there and set her and she’s ready to go so it’s nice having that option.”

The win comes after the Cyclones dropped a pair of five-set matches to Tennessee and Florida State the weekend before.

Any volleyball player will agree five-set matches are not only demanding physically but mentally as well. When a team loses a few in a row, it might begin to think that it isn’t able to get over that final hump and Bigbee said she used that as motivation.

“Just playing those two five-game sets before and being so close but not getting there all the way and actually finally winning it on Saturday was just a great feeling,” Bigbee said.

Now, the team gets a break from road competition with a three-week home stand. What it doesn’t get is a break from is ranked opponents, with No. 25 Northern Iowa next on the schedule, heading to Hilton Coliseum Wednesday night.

Even though the competition isn’t getting any easier, Landwehr said it’s helping them see their weaknesses and might give them an edge over those teams that don’t have as tough of a preseason schedule.

“I think this preseason has been huge for us in the fact that we’re playing the toughest competition that we ever have in the preseason,” Landwehr said. “Hopefully we’ve gotten a lot of our kinks out, and we’re still working those out and exposing them early as opposed to later.”