Iowa State tunes out the noise, sweeps No. 17 Northern Iowa

Brooke Anderson (5), Hali Hillegas (16) and Jess Schaben (14) celebrate after Anderson’s save in the third set on Aug. 25.

Spencer Suckow

It was the first-ever sellout for a Northern Iowa volleyball match in the McLeod Center — 7,000 fans purple-clad Panther fans packed the arena hoping to make life miserable for in-state rival Iowa State.

But the Cyclones were unfazed.

After falling to the Panthers the last two seasons in five-set marathons, Iowa State took care of the state’s only ranked team Wednesday night in straight sets, 25-20, 25-20 and 32-30.

The win moved Iowa State’s record to 3-1 on the season, and dropped the 17th-ranked Panthers, fresh off wins over No. 13 Creighton and No. 5 Kentucky, to 2-2. After the match, Iowa State head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch praised her team for cohesiveness in the handling of UNI’s constantly fired-up crowd.

“That atmosphere was pretty amazing,” Johnson-Lynch said. “I thought last weekend was a little disappointing in that I thought we didn’t ever really look like a team. I’m so happy to see that we looked like a team tonight, not just a bunch of great players.”

In terms of the actual game, there was quite a bit of sloppiness from both teams despite the 3-0 sweep by Iowa State.

The Cyclones and Panthers combined for a total of 19 service errors (11 by Iowa State) and 30 attack errors as on the night, which Johnson-Lynch partially attributed to the nerves that come with a big-game environment.

If the Cyclones were nervous, then those errors were their only tell. The entire team showed consistent poise throughout the night, even as UNI staged a rally in the third set.

“We were expecting a battle,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Obviously that third set was big, and if UNI had won that, I would’ve been a little concerned how we would’ve come back out of that.”

The Cyclones were able to weather that storm, however, thanks to contributions from both their experienced and new players. Building off solid debuts last weekend, young players like Eleanor Holthaus, Piper Mauck and Brooke Anderson were instrumental in securing a key early-season win.

Anderson, in her first career start, gave the Cyclones five kills and two assists on the night. Mauck, meanwhile, added in 40 assists and three kills.

For Holthaus, her performance was arguably the Cyclones’ best on the night. The true freshman from Richmond, Minnesota finished with 12 kills and a .435 hitting percentage, thanks in no small part to her and the team’s ability to tune out the crowd noise.

“We really just dialed in and focused on what we needed to do,” Holthaus said. “It helps having the upperclassmen there, they’re great role models to us and are there for us to help calm us down.”

Given that the Cyclones play in the Big 12 Conference, where big crowds are the norm, Holthaus said it was good to get the experience of playing in a tough environment out of the way early.

“It just shows that crowds on the road will be big,” Holthaus said. “For us, we want to try and match that energy so we can push ourselves forward and succeed that way.”

Like big crowds, the Cyclones’ upcoming schedule features something else that the team will have to get used to: playing multiple matches in a given week. Following an off day Thursday, Iowa State will travel to Missoula, Montana for the Montana Invitation, where they’ll play two matches on Friday and one Saturday.

Although it’s obviously not ideal to play four games in three days, senior outside hitter Jess Schaben said that the quick turnaround will be good preparation for the team’s postseason tournaments later in the season.

“Going in with that mindset and getting ready for that already is a good thing,”  Schaben said. “It’ll be a good test for us.”