Cyclones travel to Texas to face top-ranked Texas Longhorns

Iowa State redshirt junior middle blocker Avery Rhodes attempts to hit the ball over the net against Texas Tech on Oct. 3. Texas Tech beat Iowa State 3-2.

Sam Stuve

The Iowa State Cyclones will travel to Austin, Texas, for matches against the top-ranked Texas Longhorns. Iowa State’s biggest challenge ahead of Thursday and Friday’s match is attacking Texas’ size.

Four out of the six starters in the Longhorns lineup are listed at 6 feet 2 inches or taller. This includes reigning Big 12 Player of the Week junior outside hitter Logan Eggleston.

Eggleston had 34 kills and a .349 total hitting percentage in Texas’ two wins over the Oklahoma Sooners last weekend. She has won Big 12 Player of the Week for both weeks of this early season. Eggleston has 69 kills this season and is averaging 5.39 kills per set, which leads the Big 12 and the NCAA. She also leads the Big 12 in points per set with 5.93.

Texas also has junior setter Jhenna Gabriel, who is leading the Big 12 and is second in assists per set with 13. Gabriel and company lead the Big 12 and NCAA in assists per set with 15.

Because of their size, The Longhorns are statistically one of the best blocking and hitting teams in the Big 12.

The Longhorns are second in the Big 12 and NCAA in hitting percentage, posting a number of .336. Baylor leads the Big 12 and NCAA with a .363 hitting percentage.

Texas leads the Big 12 and NCAA in kills per set with 16.08. In blocks per set, Texas leads the Big 12 and NCAA with 2.96.

“It’s always challenging every year we play [Texas],” Iowa State Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. “The challenge is not getting blocked a lot.”

Johnson-Lynch said the Cyclones need to not hit down into the Longhorns block — two Longhorns jumping vertically side-by-side to try to block a shot — and the challenge for the Cyclones is to not let the Longhorns block takeover.

“[The Longhorns are] tall; they jump well and they block well,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We have to make sure we make good choices on the attack.”

Where the Longhorns do struggle is in digging.

The Longhorns are fifth out of nine in the Big 12 in digs with 13.08 per set.

Iowa State could take advantage of that, especially on serves.

As a team, Iowa State is averaging 1.50 service aces per set — which leads the Big 12 — and have hit 28 service aces (seventh in NCAA) in four matches combined.

This year, Johnson-Lynch has emphasized serving tough — making receiving balls hard and making an opponent receive the balls away from the net.

Sophomore outside hitter Annie Hatch said serving had been a focal point in practice this week.

“We had a big focus in practice on serving tough,” Hatch said. “We have a speed meter so you can kind of see what mph we’re [hitting] at.”

Hatch said she and her teammates have been working on increasing their mph on serves to get their opponents “out of system,” or make their opponent receive a tough serve that’s in play but away from the net.

“It matters a lot if you can push that tough serving right at the start [of the match], and being aggressive [early] helps you stay aggressive throughout,” Hatch said. “It’s definitely part of our game plan for whoever we play.”

In the four matches they have played this season, the Longhorns have been dominant, winning all four of them.

The Longhorns have won 12 out of the 13 sets played, including the last seven sets in a row.

The Cyclones, on the other hand, have two wins and two losses this season.

Nine out of the 18 sets they’ve played this season have resulted in a Cyclone victory.

Six out of the nine set losses have come by five points or less, including all three sets in Iowa State’s most recent loss to Texas Tech.

“It’s really rough coming in Monday and thinking the results could be different,” Iowa State middle blocker Candelaria Herrera said. “The most important thing this team is doing is pushing forward. We know where we are and where we want to be, so that’s the motivation.”

The matches are at 7 p.m. both Thursday and Friday at the Frank Irwin Special Events Center in Austin, Texas. Longhorn Network is streaming both matches.

Texas owns the series against Iowa State, winning 45 out 50 matches. Iowa State has never beaten Texas on the road. Nov. 12, 2016, is the last time Iowa State beat Texas (3-2).