Iowa State volleyball set for road tests against West Virginia

Outside Hitter Annie Hatch stands ready against Texas Tech on Oct. 3, 2020 at Hilton Coliseum. 

Sam Stuve

Last season, Iowa State volleyball swept the West Virginia Mountaineers in the season series, winning both matches 3-0.

The last time Iowa State went to Morgantown, West Virginia, to play against West Virginia, Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch earned her 300th victory as a head coach.

Now, Iowa State travels to Morgantown for matches on Friday and Saturday in search of its third and maybe fourth win in this shortened conference-only season.

Historically, Iowa State has dominated West Virginia, holding an 18-1 record with its only loss occurring Sept. 19, 1998.

Iowa State is 16-0 against West Virginia since West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012.

This season, Iowa State faces a West Virginia team that has outperformed its position in the 2020 Preseason Big 12 Poll.

West Virginia got picked last in the Big 12 (ninth) but is currently third with a 5-5 record.

“They’ve got some size, they’ve always been a good blocking team and this year they’ve done a really good job of that,” Johnson-Lynch said.

Johnson-Lynch said defending against West Virginia’s outside hitters may be difficult to defend because of how they attack defenses.

“Their outsides can be frustrating to defend because no matter where the ball is set to, it’s set really high, so the rhythm’s a little different,” Johnson-Lynch said. “So they’ll hit (with the ball) the top of the fingertips of your block (two players side by side jumping vertically with their hands straight up).”

Johnson-Lynch said, “So you’ll feel like you’re set up perfectly and then they skim [the ball] off of the top of your hands and so it’s just a little bit different from the teams we’ve been playing.”

West Virginia is led in kills by junior outside hitter Natali Petrova, who has 122.

Iowa State is led in kills by junior right side player Eleanor Holthaus, who has 94, which is eighth best in the Big 12.

The Cyclones have lost 15 sets this season.

Ten of those 15 sets have been decided by five points or less.

Because of this, Iowa State has been focusing on end-of-set situations in practice, according to sophomore outside hitter Annie Hatch.

“We’ve done a lot of end of set, last few points drills,” Hatch said. “It’s all about mindset.”

Hatch said other teams have been more aggressive than them at the end of sets.

Iowa State was picked third in the preseason poll and is tied for seventh with the Oklahoma Sooners with a record of 2-6.

The Mountaineers are coming off of a 3-1 and a 3-0 loss against the third-ranked Baylor Bears.

The Cyclones were supposed to play the Sooners on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, but those matches were postponed due to the “Big 12’s volleyball match interruption guidelines.”

Both the Cyclones and the Mountaineers are at the bottom of the Big 12 in offensive hitting percentage, the Cyclones are sixth in the league with a .201 percentage and the Mountaineers are seventh with a percentage of .168.

Against the Bears, the Cyclones held the Bears to a .255 hitting percentage in the first match and .145 in the second.

Those are the two lowest single match hitting percentages.

“We’ve had a good defense all year long, so now it’s just up to us in the front row to keep going every single play to get touches on the ball and finally get the one that you can put away,” redshirt freshman middle blocker Abby Greiman said.

Iowa State is third in the Big 12 in assists and kills with 11.93 assists per set and 12.73 kills per set.

West Virginia is seventh in assists with 11.12 per set and tied for sixth in kills with 12.33 per set.

On the defensive end, Iowa State and West Virginia are very similar so far this season.

West Virginia is fourth in the Big 12 in lowest hitting percentage at .238, while Iowa State is just behind at .239.

In most opponent kills allowed per set, Iowa State is sixth, allowing 13.21 per set, while West Virginia is eighth, allowing 12.30.

Iowa State is second in digs per set in the Big 12 with 14.97 and West Virginia is fifth with 14.21.

In the second match of the Baylor series, Iowa State was without redshirt junior middle blocker Avery Rhodes, who has been in a walking boot because of a foot/ankle injury and it was without her replacement freshman Alexis Engelbrecht, who has been dealing with nagging back injuries.

The Cyclones also haven’t had sophomore outside hitter Michal Schuler at all this season, as she’s been sidelined with an ankle injury.

Johnson-Lynch said Rhodes isn’t back practicing yet, but Engelbrecht and Schuler should see some playing time this weekend, but is unsure of how much they’ll see.

With Rhodes out and Engelbrecht and Schuler maybe playing limited minutes, Greiman may have the opportunity to step up again.

Greiman earned her first start of her career, which also happened to be her first collegiate match ever, in the second match against Baylor, recording four kills in six attempts.

Friday’s match begins at 5 p.m. Central Time, while Saturday’s match begins at 3 p.m. Central Time.

Both matches are taking place at WVU Coliseum and will be open to fans at 25 percent capacity.

Big 12 Now on ESPN+ is streaming both matches.