Volleyball players get comfortable for Creighton bout

Nick Paulson

Coming off a sound beating at the hands of an unfamiliar opponent, the ISU volleyball team can take comfort in seeing a familiar face across the net.

The Creighton Bluejays, 2-1, a regular opponent for the Cyclones during the spring season, will come to Hilton Coliseum at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Facing a team it is comfortable with should go a long way toward helping an inexperienced and unsettled ISU team find its identity, said coach Christy Johnson.

“I think in general we know what to expect [with Creighton],” Johnson said. “I think it is going to be more about what we do on our side, taking care of things on our side of the net.”

When these two teams met at Iowa State’s spring tournament, the Cyclones came away with a 2-0 (30-25, 30-22) victory. Senior Erin Boeve, making one of her first appearances at outside hitter, led the offensive attack with nine kills.

The Bluejays, who return six starters and 10 letterwinners, are led by a trio of middle blockers. Senior Kelly Goc and juniors Amanda Cvejdlik and Jessica Houts are all averaging more than three kills a game.

Iowa State hangs its hat on its blocking, especially up the middle, so the team is preparing for anything that Creighton could run.

“Their setter [Korie Lebeda] does a good job of finding the middles,” Johnson said. “I think that is going to be a good matchup for us.”

Middle blockers Diane Kieger and Jen Malcom both started their first matches for the Cyclones in the season opener against Middle Tennessee, but despite their lack of experience, they are confident they can contain the Bluejays’ middle attack.

“I think we can handle them,” Malcom said. “We have a pretty good block we can put up and stop them.”

The Cyclones have other areas that need to be improved to defeat an experienced team such as Creighton.

The team seemed to lose focus in its first match, and when the concentration lagged, so did the intensity.

“We need to do the little things, like be more aggressive,” Malcom said.

From an offensive standpoint, Iowa State needs to get more out of its outside hitters.

With freshman Cassie Pratt filling in at setter while Kaylee Manns is out because of suspension, a lot more balls are going to be going outside as she gets acclimated to the middles.

Boeve seemed to struggle getting comfortable at her new position in the season opener. The Cyclones expect more out of her and hope to get it as she settles in.

“I think our outsides need to be more effective,” Johnson said. “I think it might take [Boeve] a little while to get back in a groove. If she can just find a place where she can relax and play her game, she can be really good.”

One positive the Cyclones can look forward to is a more relaxed Pratt.

After getting her first match out of the way, the true freshman knows what to expect at the Division I level.

“I’ll be a lot more comfortable this time,” Pratt said.

“I didn’t know what it was like, but I do now, so I can take the experience of this game into the next one.”

Pratt doesn’t like to evaluate her own performance, but she does realize the team needs her, and is ready to elevate her game to do so.

“I didn’t play bad,” Pratt said of her first match. “But I know I can play better.”

Scouting the Bluejays

2006 record: 21-10

Conference record/finish: 12-6/fourth

2006 postseason (Missouri Valley Tournament): 1-1

Player to watch: MB Kelly Goc, 4.12 kills per game, 1.0 block per game, .508 hitting percentage, preseason All-MVC.

Notes: Creighton is coming off a 2-1 finish at the Bluejay Invitational, beating Montana and Stephen F. Austin, and losing to Middle Tennessee. Iowa State is also coming off a loss to Middle Tennessee.

The Bluejays were picked to finish third in the preseason Missouri Valley Conference coaches poll.

The Cyclones defeated the Bluejays 2-0 (30-25, 30-22) during the 2007 spring exhibition season.