VOLLEYBALL: Past success and new talent spark high expectations for Cyclones

Head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch talks to the team before practice, Monday, August 17, at Hilton Coliseum. Photo:Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Logan Gaedke

Head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch talks to the team before practice, Monday, August 17, at Hilton Coliseum. Photo:Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Kayci Woodley —

In the past, waiting was always something the ISU volleyball team had to do going into postseason play. After last season’s success, however, the waiting could be over for the Cyclone volleyball program.

Before head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch came into the picture and before the Elite Eight berth in 2008, Iowa State may have been content with this trend. Now, being considered one of the top teams in the country, getting a spot in the NCAA tournament won’t be a waiting game — it will be expected.

Iowa State finished the 2008 season ranked No. 12 in the nation — the highest ranking a Cyclone squad has ever ended with — compiling an overall record of 22-13. This year, Iowa State is ranked thirteenth in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll and has three players with Preseason All Big-12 honors.

“I hope that we are now regarded as one of the premier teams in the country,” Johnson-Lynch said. “So far, we have hoped to get into the tournament and kind of on edge; getting a higher seed could make first and second round match-ups a little easier.”

Anxiously, Iowa State watched as the NCAA tournament bids were broadcast in November of 2008. Relief set in for the Cyclones after they received an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament and were picked as the No. 2 seed in the Minneapolis regional. 

Acquiring a higher seed and even hosting a first and second round of the NCAA tournament are goals that previous ISU volleyball teams would have never imagined, but are now coming into play as the 2009 season starts.

The NCAA journey began for last year’s ISU team by gliding past Northern Iowa (3-1) in the first round and defeating Minnesota on its home court (3-1) in the second. The third round of the tournament is where a new journey began for the Cyclone volleyball program itself.

A shell-shocked ISU team headed into the locker room after game two against No. 7 Oregon in the regional semifinal in Austin, Texas, where it found itself down 2 sets to 0. A victory for an underdog team down 2-0 in a Sweet 16 match is typically not winnable, but motivation from leaders in the locker room changed that.

In the third set, a different ISU team stepped on the court and battled back to beat the Ducks 3-2, advancing as the first Cyclone team to reach the Elite Eight.

“A lot of teams are going to be wanting to beat us now,” said senior middle blocker Diane Kieger. “We used to be a team that had nothing to lose, but now I think teams realize we are to be reckoned with.”

Expectations for the Cyclones’ upcoming season are validated as Iowa State returns all but one starter from last year, and is bringing in the No. 10 freshman recruiting class in the nation.

“The expectations are a lot higher this year, but I think our team is ready,” said sophomore Rachel Hockaday. “We have five fresh faces out here, but at the same time we return almost everybody.”

Iowa State’s freshman class gives depth to the bench and adds competition every day in practice.

With the high-profile players the Cyclones have recruited, the potential of this year’s squad is endless. 

Three of the nation’s top 100 recruits; Jamie Straube from Tecumseh, Neb.; Alison Landwehr from Chesterfield, Mo.; and Hannah Johnson, from Ankeny, will be joining the ISU squad this year. Defensive specialist Annie Meyer from Plano, Texas; and middle blocker Taylor Knuth, from Johnston, are also part of the recruiting class for the Cyclones this season. 

Johnson-Lynch said that later in the season, when players start to deteriorate, having talented new recruits who can step in to pick up some slack is important.

Improving the team’s overall record and cutting down losses they saw last year in conference play are some things Johnson-Lynch is trying to do. The Cyclones don’t plan to change their strategy too much in order to obtain these new expectations.

“We just try to improve a little bit each year, and I hope our record in the Big 12 will continue to improve,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We just want to continue to build on how we ended last year.” 

The Cyclones received the highest preseason Big-12 ranking in the school’s history — picked to place third behind Texas and Nebraska by the league’s coaches. Beating either the Longhorns or the Huskers, historically the two most successful teams both in conference play and in national competition, are feats the ISU volleyball team aspires to this season.