Battle-tested Cyclones ready for NCAA Tournament

Senior outside hitter Josie Herbst lines up a hit against TCU on Oct. 16. The Cyclones won 3-0.

John Miller, , J_Miller_8

The Iowa State Cyclones have returned to the NCAA Tournament. But they will face a familiar face on Friday in Minneapolis — the Creighton Blue Jays.

The Cyclones have faced the Blue Jays three times within the past year. The last time the two played was during a preseason exhibition in August, where the Cyclones won three sets to two. During the regular season last year, Creighton won three sets to one.

“Creighton is a great team; they are very experienced and have experience in the tournament,” said coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. “It is a tough draw but that is what we expected.” 

Creighton went on to a 24-5 record this year, along with a 17-1 in the Big East Conference. Their only conference loss was to Villanova, who they swept earlier in the season. 

Creighton’s RPI ranking is 20th and Iowa State’s is 46th. The Blue Jays are ranked 15th in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll on Monday, while the Cyclones are unranked.  

While the rankings are not in its favor, Iowa State looks to use its strength of schedule to its advantage.

“We have arguably the toughest conference in the schedule and I think that really prepares us for these high-pressure games in the tournament,” said senior Josie Herbst. 

The Cyclones finished the regular season with a record of 17-11, and 8-8 in Big 12 play. Their resume is highlighted by a fourth-place finish in the Big 12. 

Iowa State swept the third-place Oklahoma Sooners this season, but was unable to get a victory against the fifth-place Texas Tech Red Raiders. 

“We’ve had moments this season where we look like a great team but also moments were we just don’t have the energy and that shows on the court,” said junior Piper Mauck. 

That inconsistency is also partly due to the injuries that the Cyclones have faced this season.

Top hitter Eleanor Holthaus has missed the past couple games after she sustained an ankle injury in practice prior to the Kansas game. She leads the Iowa State offense with 3.24 kills per set, while also hitting .255.

While Holthaus has not been ruled out officially for the first round game against Creighton, the team has confidence in its alternate lineup.

“I do not have a good feeling for ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for Eleanor but I know that we will be ready to play with whatever lineup we have out there,” Johnson-Lynch said. 

Iowa State last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2017, defeating Princeton 3-0 in the opening round before being swept by Wisconsin to end its season. 

This is the 14th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance for Iowa State. Thirteen of them have come under Johnson-Lynch.

Last year broke a 12-year streak dating back to 2006 of consecutive appearances for the team. 

“You know I want them to go for it and think that we’re gonna make a big run,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Sometimes it is good to not necessarily know what you will have.”

The winner of the Iowa State-Creighton game will face either No. 7 Minnesota or Fairfield in the next round. 

Despite the tough draw, the Cyclones are looking to make the most out of the moment. 

“The NCAA Tournament really gives a chance to put our whole season behind us and just play,” said Herbst. “I want us to go out there and play like I know we can.”