VOLLEYBALL: Despite loss, team remains upbeat about accomplishments this season

Iowa States Jamie Straube, middle blocker, misses a block on Friday, Dec. 11, 2009, at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska. The Huskers swept the Cyclones 3-0. Photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Logan Gaedke

Iowa State’s Jamie Straube, middle blocker, misses a block on Friday, Dec. 11, 2009, at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska. The Huskers swept the Cyclones 3-0. Photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Kayci Woodley —

Being swept by Nebraska in the Omaha Regional ended Iowa State’s season on last Friday but it didn’t end the Cyclones’ success. Iowa State hit a brick wall, put up by the Cornhuskers, and couldn’t overcome the Nebraska dominance as the Cyclones fell to the Huskers in three sets (25-11, 25-19, 25-22) to end Iowa State’s record breaking season.

Iowa State displayed an uncharacteristic performance as the Huskers out-blocked, out-dug and simply out-performed the Cyclones in a number of statistical categories. Players who typically led the ISU attack seemed out of sync and missed the mark by inches several times. The phrase ‘it is wide,’ said by the Qwest Center announcer, may still be ringing in the heads of Cyclone players.

“We certainly lost the serve and pass game; I thought that was pretty lopsided,” coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. “It seemed like they were in system. The ball was going right to the setter every time, making it very difficult for our block, while we couldn’t pass the ball off the net and became pretty predictable in our offense.”

If Iowa State wasn’t hitting out of bounds, Nebraska was there to block the attack at the net, or at least get a touch on the ball to slow things down for the Husker defense. Junior right side hitter Lindsey Licht led the way for Nebraska with four block assists, while senior middle blocker Kori Cooper posted two block assists and two solos.

“I told our team that we prepared really well and we followed a great game plan tonight,” said Husker coach John Cook. “We executed at a really high level. We held a top-10 team to .096 hitting percentage — under .300 — we did a really nice job.”

Nebraska finished with 51 digs, compared to Iowa State’s 48, and posted eight blocks to the Cyclones’ two. An attacking percentage of .441 fueled the Husker attack in set one, and Nebraska ended on a whopping percentage of .324.

“Nebraska did a great job. They’re well-coached and the girls just did a great job kind of knowing what we were going to do in a lot of situations,” said ISU senior setter Kaylee Manns.

Shutting down the ISU attack was key for Nebraska, as junior outside hitter Victoria Henson seemed to be the only Cyclone playing her game. Henson led the way for Iowa State with her 13 kills and hit .321 on the night. Getting Manns out of rhythm was another attempt made by Nebraska that worked at times, as miscommunication between Manns and hitters took place, resulting in a stuff block by Nebraska or an overpass kill by the Huskers.

“We really stayed with our game plan tonight, and I think we got to Iowa State’s setter a little bit,” Cook said. “Things weren’t working for her very well and that was the biggest thing.”

Iowa State finished the game with 22 attacking errors, the second-most the team has seen this season in a three-set match. In set one, Iowa State only scored 11 points, the lowest number the Cyclones finished with in a set the entire season. Along with that, it was the first time Iowa State hit under .100 the whole year.

While these efforts were disappointing in the eyes of Cyclone players and coaches, the fact that they had never happened before displays the success Iowa State has had throughout the 2009 season.

“We’re certainly very disappointed in how we played but the message to our players that we talked about is ‘while you might be disappointed in how you played tonight, or how the team played, you got us here,’” Johnson-Lynch said.

There were no tears in the press conference following the game, as Henson, Manns and junior libero Ashley Mass discussed their season’s end. Having to transition from first and second rounds in Hilton Coliseum with the Cyclone fans on their side was a change for Iowa State, as their cheers were muffled after points were scored, and it was even difficult for them to hear one another on the court.

“The crowd would’ve been a bigger factor when you were trying to talk to your hitters and they change for a different kind of hit — stuff like that. It was hard to hear them,” Manns said.

But then again, they had done it in Lincoln previously this year and were anxious and excited for another matchup where, yet again, they were the underdogs despite being the higher seed in the NCAA tournament.

“I know both teams were really nervous. It’s hard not to be,” Cook said. I think we just probably handled it a little bit better with adrenalin and emotion. I think maybe Iowa State, it took them a while to get into it. We knew we had a shot to get on them early and we took advantage of it.”

Getting to Iowa State early is something the Cyclones had struggled with all year, as they would fall behind in set one or two and have to pick up the pieces to come up with a victory. This time, Iowa State was unable to get past the near-flawless effort of Nebraska and pick up where they fell early in the first set.

Despite Nebraska’s ability to get the momentum and take away Iowa State’s shot at advancing in the tournament, the Huskers couldn’t take away the Cyclone victory in Lincoln this year, the first time in series history an ISU squad came out on top. The Cornhuskers also couldn’t take away the fact that Texas has a ‘1’ in their record now because of Iowa State.

“Those things have been remarkable, and I don’t want us to judge our season on one match,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We know the sun will come out tomorrow, and we’re looking forward to continuing to build our program.”

As Johnson-Lynch did four years ago, the Cyclones will now start thinking of rebuilding next year and continuing to push Iowa State into the elite status. But now, Manns won’t be there to guide the team.

“I just hope that I left all the girls with something to live up to, something to do better, keep bettering the program every year,” Manns said. “I hope I left something, and I hope they remember how this feels so they don’t let it happen next year.”

Manns leaves the program as Iowa State’s all-time career leader in assists, at 5,625, and posted the 68th double-double of her career in the final game of her Cyclone campaign.

“I’m not sure there’s any other setter that we could’ve recruited that’s done what Kaylee has done,” Johnson-Lynch said, “and I say that because she was not the most highly touted setter out of high school, but for us she was the perfect setter, because she was a great athlete, someone we could train, but most importantly she wasn’t afraid to compete.”

Manns was there to take them from an unknown team with an unsuccessful past, to a team ranked fifth in the country and hosting first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.

“It didn’t matter the situation. We could be playing the gold medal Olympic team, and I think she would still believe we could beat them, and that’s the kind of person we needed coming in as we were getting this program going,” Johnson-Lynch said.

The program is “going” now, and although the Cyclones didn’t advance to the Final Four, as Manns had hoped, she has plenty of accomplishments to look back on. Iowa State finished the season with a record of 27-5, the best in school history. Along with a slew of records broken this season, the Cyclones became just the third team in the Big 12 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen three years in a row.

Jen Malcom was the lone starter lost from the 2008 lineup that Iowa State had to play without this season, and Manns will be the starter gone from this year’s lineup. So far, the outcome has been good for Iowa State when it loses just one starter.

“Although we are losing Kaylee Manns, who is an amazing setter, but Alison [Landwehr] I think is going to step up and help our team out a lot,” Henson said.

Not only in the setting aspect, but also the digging and blocking efforts Manns has made in her time at Iowa State, will be missing in the Cyclone game plan, not to mention Manns’ leadership and overall presence on the court. But she did her job and now it’s time for another player to step up and change the program.

“That takes a pretty special and unique personality, and again, I don’t know that there’s many people that could have done what [Manns] did. She was the right person for the job,” Johnson-Lynch said.