Tough test marks Cyclones opener

Matt Gubbels

After nearly three weeks of fall camp where the players knew the tendencies of each player on the floor, the ISU volleyball team will get a lesson in adjustment this weekend.

The 18th-ranked Cyclones open their season at the Panther Invitational in Milwaukee, Wis., on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Iowa State will play Illinois State and hosting Panthers on Friday and Mississippi on Saturday.

“It will be nice to get back in the swing of things and to finally get the season started,” senior outside hitter Mary Bisenius. “Preseason is always a good time because we always play some really good teams.”

Coach Christy Johnson said the team will have to adjust to playing against non-ISU players after a longer-than-usual fall camp.

“You get really tired of playing against each other, and you know each other’s tendencies, so there is no surprises,” Johnson said. “We’re really ready to go, and kind of itching to play.”

The Cyclones will open the season against strong and unfamiliar opponents in NCAA qualifiers Mississippi and Illinois St. Iowa State swept UW-Milwaukee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2006 but has not played them since.

“I wish now I wouldn’t have scheduled so tough,” Johnson said jokingly. “No, I think it will be good for us because we have to be ready to go. We’re going to have to be able to adjust and do some things on the fly. It’s going to be a lot of trying to pick up things as we go.”

Junior setter Kaylee Manns said playing the new teams will be challenging but will help the team in the long run.

“We’re going to have to just play and not just go with what we know about them,” Manns said. “We’ll have a game plan but not as intense of one as when we play Big 12 teams.”

The Cyclones will play new players on the floor, as well as some veterans in different roles. Bisenius, for example, will play defense in the back row.

This is also the first tournament for five freshmen who made up the 25th-ranked recruiting class in the nation and may see significant playing time this season.

“Preseason is always a good time to get the freshmen in there and adjust to some things because it’s their first college match,” Bisenius said.

Johnson said she has been especially pleased with outside hitter Rachel Hockaday and middle blocker Debbie Stadick.

“Rachel Hockaday has really established herself as a starter for us, probably on the right side,” Johnson said. “She is a player and she can do it all; not many freshmen can come in and play all six rotations.”

Volleyball @ Panther Invitational

Aug. 29 – Aug. 30

Iowa State vs. Illinois St., UW-Milwaukee and Mississippi

Notes: The Cyclones are 6-1 in their previous seven season openers, after last year’s 3-1 loss to Middle Tennessee State. Iowa State is also 17-2 in season opening tournaments in this decade.