VOLLEYBALL: Tourney win would be program’s next big step

Matt Gubbels

Two seasons ago, the ISU volleyball team went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and last season it went one step further, reaching its first-ever Sweet 16.

This season, the Cyclones have reached their second straight regional semifinal, and will attempt to reach their first-ever regional final Friday against Oregon.

Coach Christy Johnson said her team played its best match of the season against Minnesota last Saturday and hopes to continue that momentum.

“Talk about giving your program legitimacy — getting to the Elite Eight would be something pretty remarkable,” Johnson said. “That’s a dream we have, and that would be the next step for our program, but this weekend our job is to go down and play every point the best we can.”

The win over Minnesota also marked the second straight year Iowa State won on an opponent’s home floor to reach the round of 16.

Setter Kaylee Manns said she could not ask for more at this point in her career, but it would be great to go even further than last season.

“It really shows that we step up to play when we need to,” Manns said. “I would like say we should have played this way every game, and we should have, but we are at the end of the season now and we know how we have to play.”

Going into familiar territory

When the Cyclones enter the Gregory Gymnasium on Friday, they will be entering somewhat familiar territory.

Iowa State plays a match there every season against Texas, as a part of a home-and-home series with every team in the Big 12 Conference. The Cyclones played three tight sets with the Longhorns, falling 3-0, but took Texas to extra points in two of the sets.

Middle blocker Jen Malcom said the team has played well in Austin the last couple of seasons.

“It’s kind of good going into a gym you are familiar with,” Malcom said. “It has helped in Madison and Minnesota, so hopefully lucky number three will be at Texas.”

Austin regional: Big 12 vs. Pac 10

The Big 12 and Pac 10 Conferences own eight of the 16 teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament, and four of those eight are in Austin.

Two of the five Pac 10 schools remaining, 11th-seeded Oregon and 14th-seeded UCLA, will hook up with two of the three Big 12 schools remaining, Iowa State and third-seeded Texas, respectively.

Johnson said she was not surprised because the Pac 10 and Big 12 Conferences are considered among the top in the country. She was surprised the Big 12 didn’t get more teams in the tournament.

“Honestly, I was a little disappointed [the Big 12] didn’t get more teams in the tournament, so I hope us getting to the Sweet 16 puts the exclamation point on the fact that the Big 12 is a great conference,” Johnson said.

The Pac 10 led the field of 64, getting seven teams in, while the Big 12 tied with the SEC for third in number of bids with four. The Big Ten and West Coast Conferences both got five teams in the NCAA Tournament.

“I hope this reminds the committee that this conference is very difficult,” Johnson said. “You can be fourth, fifth, sixth and still be a top-20 team.”

Four Cyclones garner All-Central Region honors

A school-record four Iowa State volleyball players have earned spots on the AVCA’s All-Central Region teams. In the last 34 years of the program, ISU players had received that honor just five times.

Outside hitter Victoria Henson, setter Kaylee Manns and libero Ashley Mass were named to the 2008 first team, and middle blocker Jen Malcom was an honorable mention selection.

This makes all of the players eligible for All-America consideration as well.

Matches to be televised

Friday’s regional semifinal with Oregon can be viewed for free on www.texassports.com at 4:30 p.m. The winner of that match will play in the Austin regional final at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, which can be viewed on ESPNU.