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Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones survive final road match, beat No. 21 Houston 3-2

Maeley Rosengren
Maya Duckworth celebrates with teammates after scoring at the Iowa State vs. Kansas volleyball game, Hilton Coliseum, Nov. 10, 2023.

The Texas road trip for Iowa State closed out with a win over No. 21 Houston in five sets (25-19, 25-23, 18-25, 15-25, 16-14). A win over a ranked team on the road at this point in the season is a major resume-builder for Iowa State.

It was an up-and-down night for both teams. The Cyclones won the first two sets but dropped three and four.

Here are the three biggest takeaways in Iowa State’s victory over Houston.

Tough serving by both teams

Head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch has made serving a top priority for Iowa State this season. She said earlier in the week serving would be especially important against this fast and physical Houston team.

Serving stayed aggressive all night for the Cyclones, finishing with five aces. Sophomore Lilly Wachholz led the way with two total, one in set one and the other in set two.

It was not always pretty though. Iowa State committed 12 service errors and Houston had 11. Forcing errors helped offset the errors from the Cyclones.

The key to the serving for Iowa State was that Houston had trouble returning serves, allowing Iowa State to take advantage and grab some points through blocks or kills on the ensuing possession.

Combined offensive and defensive effort

With the trouble returning serves plaguing Houston, Iowa State either blocked the Cougar returns or set up a kill on the ensuing possession multiple times.

Iowa State out-blocked Houston 11 to six with four coming in the first set. This was mainly due to the aggressive serving to displace the Houston attack.

The outside hitters for Houston were put in check as Iowa State controlled the match defensively forcing Houston to attack the middle of the floor.

Iowa State was outhit by Houston .231 to .228 overall but managed to squeak out the win. The Cyclones’ hit percentage ranged from .083 to .351, while Houston hit between .036 to .565 throughout the match.

Houston also had more kills, 64 to 58. It is not every day the team that was outhit ends up victorious.

Kill leaders were freshman Nayeli Gonzalez with 15 and senior Jordan Hopp with 14. Hopp was the most efficient of the Cyclones, committing just two errors and finishing with a hit percentage of .462, one of her best totals of the season.

Cyclones outlast Cougars

Iowa State showed two different sides of itself in the match. Houston did the same.

A hot start for the Cyclones had them up 2-0 and on track for a sweep. Houston was not hitting well and the serving for Iowa State could not be stopped.

Something changed for Houston in the third set. The Cougars broke out to an early five-point lead and never looked back, taking the third set and swinging the momentum to their side.

The Cyclones looked lost in the fourth set. Houston used the momentum from the third set to break out of the gate strong and force a fifth set, winning set four on a 3-0 run.

Both teams had seen the highs and lows entering the fifth set and Houston was trying to continue to ride its wave of momentum.

That would not happen. Iowa State flipped the script on Houston to stall the Cougars and steal back the momentum.

Houston did start out up 3-1, but the Cyclones fought back to tie at five apiece. Iowa State grabbed its first lead 9-8 in the set and never lost the lead, winning 16-14 in a hard-fought fifth set.

To win against a top-25 opponent on the road is tough, especially when outhit. Johnson-Lynch has her team playing well at the right time, and this win could be what Iowa State needed for the final big push to the NCAA Tournament.

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    Jean Twelmeyer | Nov 19, 2023 at 8:45 am

    Another great article from Brett Twelmeyer.