Iowa State volleyball hosts Cyclone Classic ahead of conference play

Brooke Andersen, outside hitter, falls to the ground after diving for the ball.

Spencer Suckow

Iowa State volleyball found itself in rare territory last weekend.

For the first time in four years, the Cyclones had a losing weekend in non-conference play, going 1-2 in games against then-No. 14 Creighton, Wichita State and then-No. 7 Nebraska. You’d have to go back to 2014 to find the last time the Cyclones lost two games in a regular season weekend, when Iowa State lost to Stanford and Florida State in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Showcase.

While last weekend’s results were certainly disappointing, they weren’t too surprising. Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch has mentioned on several occasions that she made the team’s non-conference schedule a gauntlet by design, so that the team will be battle-tested come tournament time.

Occasionally, then, the byproduct of that scheduling method will be some tough losses. What made the losses even tougher, was the fact the Cyclones were never really dominated in either of their losses to Creighton or Nebraska.

Sure, Nebraska won in straight sets and Creighton won in four, but the Cyclones held leads in the majority of their sets in both matches. That fact isn’t lost on the players, who believe the team is close to a breakthrough.

“Really, we can compete with any good team,” said freshman Brooke Andersen. “Finishing has been our issue, but our serving and passing were good. We’ve just got to keep working.”

This week, the schedule doesn’t look nearly as challenging on paper. Iowa State will play host to Wyoming, Iowa and Syracuse as part of the Cyclone Classic at Hilton Coliseum.

Of those teams, only Wyoming is receiving votes in the AVCA poll. The Cowgirls aren’t currently ranked, but come into the tournament with an impressive 8-1 record, including a win over previously ranked No. 24 Colorado.

Iowa also has a winning record at 5-3, although no wins were against particularly impressive teams. Then there’s Syracuse, who currently sits at 2-3, although all three losses were to ranked opponents.

As a whole, this weekend certainly seems less daunting than facing two top-15 teams on the road. However, the Cyclones still aren’t overlooking anyone coming off that less-than-stellar weekend. The team knows Syracuse is still a power-five level opponent, and are well aware of Wyoming’s talent.

“Wyoming is very good,” Johnson-Lynch said. “They’ve had a very good preseason. They’re a very good team, so there will be no looking past them.”

Then, of course, there’s Iowa, a rivalry game that the team always has circled on the calendar.

“We try to approach (Iowa) as another match, but it will feel like more than that with all the hype that goes with it,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We try to keep it in perspective.”

As a whole, the weekend will serve as the final non-conference tune-up before Big 12 conference play starts next week.

Before the season, Iowa State was picked to finish third in the conference behind Baylor and Texas. The team currently sits at sixth in the Big 12, but still remains the third-highest ranked team behind the Bears and Longhorns.

Heading into conference play, successful lineup combinations are what the Cyclones are looking for most. The team has tried a number of different in-game combinations throughout the season thus far, and Johnson-Lynch said she often spends a significant amount of time analyzing what potential lineups may work best going forward.

Expect, then, to see even more combinations this weekend. Johnson-Lynch said that she wants to start solidifying lineups soon, but that she’ll ultimately keep putting out different combinations of players until she finds multiple high-level rotations.

While that may raise some concerns about chemistry, the team says that they’re unbothered by the experimentation. In fact, senior Jess Schaben says that it doesn’t adversely affect anyone, because the team practices multiple different player combinations throughout a given practice.

“At first it’s a little challenging adjusting to lineups, but we all practice together every day so it’s not like it’s too different,” Schaben said.

With that in mind, fans can expect to see more experimentation in hopes Iowa State will find perfect combinations heading into its conference slate.

“We’re always trying new things,” Schaben said.