Volleyball team poised for revenge match

Travis Cordes

Despite having a satisfying first half of the conference season, the ISU volleyball team is still searching for bigger and better things.

The Cyclones’ 7-4 conference record lands them comfortably in fifth place in the Big 12, but they have yet to get over the hump in important matches, with all seven of their wins coming against teams ranked below them, and all four losses coming to teams ranked ahead of them.

Iowa State (13-8, 7-4 Big 12) will get their chance to change that trend Saturday, when the team travels to Manhattan, Kan., to take on the No. 15 Wildcats (16-6, 8-4), who sit just a half-game ahead of Iowa State in the Big 12 standings.

The last time these teams met, Kansas State had no trouble in sweeping the Cyclones (30-24, 30-25, 30-27) in front of a season-high crowd of 2,157 at Hilton Coliseum on Oct. 13.

“They played extremely well against us last time,” said coach Christy Johnson. “We had a lot of trouble stopping their two best players, and they found a way to shut down ours. We need to get our offense going on Saturday, because last time we played them we didn’t do a good job of finding ways to score.”

The Wildcats are led offensively by the 2007 Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year Natalya Korobkova, who is third in the Big 12 in points (5.56 per game), fourth in kills (4.57 per game), fifth in service aces (.40 per game) and 10th in blocks (1.16 per game).

The key to a victory for the Cyclones starts with slowing down Korobkova and her offensive counterpart, Rita Liliom.

“This is a very big match for both teams,” Johnson said. “Last time around, [Korobkova] played very well against us, and she seems to be playing even better now, which is something we need to contend with and find a way to slow down.”

Korobkova and Liliom accounted for 60 percent of the kills for the Wildcats in Ames and also played a key role in holding the Cyclones to a hitting percentage under .200. Turning up offensive production will be important for them to have success against the Wildcats this weekend.

“We got taken out of our system when we played them here,” said junior Jen Malcom. “We need to find a way to slow down their right side and set up better blocks on them, being aggressive and coming out strong knowing we can beat them.”

Both teams have tallied impressive defensive numbers thus far, and the team that plays the most fundamentally sound defense on Saturday will likely gain the upper hand in the match. Iowa State currently ranks second in the Big 12 in opponent hitting percentage (.174) and first in blocks per game (3.32).

Kansas State ranks third and fourth in those categories, respectively.

The Wildcats also hold a prominent lead in first place for service aces per game at 2.14, and are the only team in the Big 12 averaging more than two per game. The Wildcats had 10 aces to the Cyclones’ two in the last meeting.

Since dropping their lone Big 12 home loss this season to the Wildcats, the Cyclones have won two straight matches and are looking to step things up for the rest of the season.

“There’s some momentum here, but we need to step it up in practice for the rest of the week,” Malcom said. “We haven’t had the greatest two practices since we’ve come back from break, but I think after tonight we’ll step it up and have our ‘A’ game ready for K-State.”

Scouting the Wildcats

Record: 16-6, 8-4 Big 12

Rank: No. 15 in the nation, No. 4 Big 12

Good wins: No. 14 Cal Poly (3-2), Iowa State (3-0)

Bad losses: None – all losses have come against ranked teams

Player to watch: Natalya Korobkova, 4.57 kills per game, 1.16 blocks per game, 0.4 service aces per game

Notes: Kansas State won the previous meeting between the two in a 3-0 sweep of the Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum on Oct. 13. The dynamic duo of Russian and Hungarian outside hitters Natalya Korobkova and Rita Liliom account for nearly half of the teams’ hitting attempts, and propel a Wildcat offense that ranks fourth in the conference in hitting percentage and kills. Iowa State leads the all-time series between the two teams 36-33.