Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones narrowly escape Florida Gulf Coast at NCAA Tournament


Tyler Coe

Solei Thomas in action against Kansas State on Nov. 4

Payne Blazevich, Sports Reporter

No. 6-seed Iowa State secured a second-round berth in the NCAA Championship with its five-set win over Florida Gulf Coast Friday afternoon. The Cyclones were nearly reverse swept, but clutch kills held off a rallying FGCU team. 

The volleyball team, no stranger to close matches, almost saw a 2-0 lead turn into a 3-2 defeat. Despite facing elimination in the third set, the Eagles rallied to win a critical pair of frames, sending the postseason match to a fifth set. 

But Iowa State was able to rediscover its rhythm and hold off FGCU, earning a trip to the second round. It wasn’t easy, but the Cyclones were able to get it done. 

Cyclones hold off a reverse sweep

Iowa State has faced seven five-set matches during the regular season, going 5-5 with its only loss to Wichita State and Kansas.

It seemed as though the Cyclones could close the match out in three sets, only falling behind once after the first point of set two. But the Eagles were able to win a competitive third set 25-23, extending the series and their 2022 season. 

The momentum generated in the third set was magnified in the fourth, as FGCU took down Iowa State 25-16. Freshman Maya Duckworth, who commanded the offense in the first half of the match, was shut down by FGCU’s stellar defensive front. 

With the match on the line, Iowa State relied on their veteran. Senior Eleanor Holthaus elevated her play in the final frame, earning five kills to secure an Iowa State win. 

Efficient offense

A dominant offensive performance bolstered the Cyclones in the first two sets. Each player on the floor was impactful, but Duckworth’s performance controlled the first half of the matchup.

She earned 13 kills while committing seven errors in total. Senior Solei Thomas also reached double figures in the match with 12 kills of her own. 

When Duckworth became the center of defensive attention, Holthaus stepped up her game, ultimately leading the Cyclones with 19 kills. 

The team was consistent with its serve and pass game throughout the match. Ball control has caused Iowa State problems at times this season, but when the Cyclones limit their errors, they are able to compete at their best. 

Iowa State earned six service aces while giving up nine service errors. An inability to remain competitive at the service line has been costly in previous close matches, but the Cyclones were able to match critical aces from FGCU throughout all five sets.

Moving on

With the close win, Iowa State secured its first second-round berth since the 2017 season. Although the team is younger than in previous years, relying on freshmen to act as key contributors, Iowa State has been able to progress further in the tournament than last season. 

Coming into the year, the Cyclones needed to replace holes left by veterans Candelaria Herrera and Marija Popovic. Through trial and error, Iowa State gradually improved with its mixed core of upper and lower-classmen. 

And now, after a scrappy five-set win, the Cyclones have improved past their round-one loss to No. 18 Stanford in 2021. 

In the second round, Iowa State will face the winner of No. 3-seed Florida vs. Florida A&M. It will be a challenging matchup no matter who the Cyclones face, but this team has a tendency to blow past expectations.