Down but not out: The key to the Cyclones’ consistent comebacks


Tyler Coe

Iowa State celebrates a point against Northern Iowa on Sept. 13.

In the first match of its final non-conference tournament, Iowa State faced a 0-2 deficit against the Kansas City Roos. After a mid-week loss against UNI, the volleyball squad was in danger of slipping after a successful stretch of games.

The Kansas City offense was efficient, as freshman Kimora Whetstone and senior Raina Smith found early success in penetrating Iowa State’s defense. The Roos were able to score at will, surging ahead when the Cyclones seemed to be cutting the deficit.

Iowa State’s passing was inconsistent. The outside hitters could not get good swings, and an offensive rhythm was nowhere to be found. Although the Cyclones hung around, Kansas City notched two quick wins.

Freshman Maya Duckworth was playing at her absolute best, but a 4-0 scoring run from the Roos put Kansas City ahead in set three. If the Cyclones couldn’t turn it around, they were doomed to lose the match.

With their backs against the wall, Iowa State veterans Mariah Mitchell and Eleanor Holthaus elevated their play and put Iowa State back in contention.

“Eleanor just looked at us and was just like, ‘we need to pick this up,’ and so I think we just did,” Duckworth said.

When absolutely necessary, Iowa State flipped a switch. The Cyclones took hold of the match and cruised past Kansas City, winning three straight sets and securing a reverse sweep over the Roos.

Iowa State is comfortable in these types of situations. In fact, the win over Kansas City was the team’s first reverse sweep of the weekend. Falling 0-2 against Saint Louis, the Cyclones rallied to take down the Billikens in five sets.

Falling behind early has been a consistent trend throughout the season. Whether it’s a troublesome or encouraging pattern depends on perspective.

“We’re almost like, not really playing the way we can until we have to,” head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. “We’ve got to play with a sense of urgency from point one. That’s one of the goals.”

Holthaus views the ability to come back from behind in a different light.

“The word that we’ve really focused on this preseason is ‘perseverance,’” Holthaus said.

The Cyclones have needed to persevere time and time again this season. They’ve had four games reach five sets so far, winning their previous three. Iowa State has also failed to shut out an opponent, meaning the Cyclones have played in their fair share of tightly contested matches.

Although making quick work of an opponent has been a challenge, Iowa State has also rarely gotten blown out. Even in 0-3 losses, the individual score lines for each set are tighter than the final score.

The season-opener against No.18 Creighton was decided by 12 points over three sets. Iowa State scored at least 20 points in each set but couldn’t find a way to overpower the Jayhawks, losing 0-3.

The following weekend, Iowa State dropped a close 1-3 match to No. 21 Penn State, losing sets one and three by three points. Had the Cyclones gotten on top early, the end result may have played out differently.

“Knowing that we’re only like two, three points behind, if we don’t start in the deficit then we’re blowing the other team out,” Duckworth said.

Duckworth was a key reason Iowa State didn’t fall flat against Kansas City. Her 16-kill performance bought enough time for players like Mitchell and Holthaus to step up and take over the match.

While Duckworth has been on a roll recently, other players have been the rock when Iowa State is struggling. Whether it’s a veteran like Holthaus or one of the fresh faces like Duckworth, plenty of players on the roster are capable of carrying the Cyclones for a night.

“I think that’s one of our strengths is our depth and our ability to kind of depend on different people,” Johnson-Lynch said. “I don’t always know who that’s going to be. But that also means the opponent doesn’t always know, so that’s not a bad thing.”