Season reaches end for ISU volleyball in second-round loss

Junior Ciara Capezio prepares for the first play of the game. The Cyclones beat the Sooners 3 sets to 1.

Brian Mozey

MADISON, Wisc. — ISU senior Caitlin Nolan hung up her ISU jersey for the last time Friday night, and thoughts flooded her mind about the first time she had the opportunity to don the cardinal and gold. 

Nolan made her way to the media room to be interviewed one last time. As she spoke, her phrases became shorter and her words became slightly distorted as the emotions finally hit her. 

She realized, in the midst of being interviewed, that this was the end of the season and her career as a Cyclone. 

No. 10 Wisconsin (25-6, 16-4 Big 10) swept Iowa State (19-10, 11-5 Big 12) in three sets (25-18, 25-15, 25-21) to advance to the regionals and send the Cyclones home for good. Even though this season has drawn to a close, and three key seniors are leaving, the team can’t help but reflect on its success.

“I’m really proud of the team and the season that we accomplished,” said coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. “As a coach, you hope that your team has played to its potential, and I believe they showed it toward the end of the season.”

Before heading into the Big 12 regular season conference play, Iowa State struggled to find its game as a whole. The Cyclones lost against Marquette, Virginia, Nebraska and in-state rival Iowa at the beginning of the season. 

Johnson-Lynch said a light turned on for the team once it reached Big 12 play. The players were communicating, and the team looked in sync. 

There were a few changes that the coaching staff had to make throughout conference play, but nothing compared to earlier in the season. That stretch was when Johnson-Lynch started seeing the potential of the team. 

Iowa State swept TCU on Nov. 7 in Fort Worth, Texas, and gave Johnson-Lynch hope that the team had a chance in the NCAA Tournament. Iowa State hit a roadblock against Wisconsin and was defeated Friday night, but Johnson-Lynch was still proud of the Cyclones for playing up to their potential toward the end of this season. 

“We’ve overcome a lot of adversity with handling injuries and having different people play different positions,” said junior outside hitter Ciara Capezio. “We started the season off a little rocky, but as the season progressed and into today, we found out who we really were.”

Iowa State now bids farewell to three seniors: Mackenzie Bigbee, Tory Knuth and Nolan. Bigbee had to sit on the bench the majority of this year with a blood clot in her knee, but was a former All-American selection.

Knuth also had to battle through some severe injuries as a player, and Johnson-Lynch was proud to have her as a middle blocker for the team this season. Finally, Nolan had to replace Kristen Hahn. Not only did Nolan rise up to the challenge, but she also won two Big 12 Libero of the Year award.

“It’s been a great ride and I feel like every year, we’ve gotten a little bit better,” Nolan said while holding back some tears. “I think I’ve learned so much about myself as a person and as a volleyball player and I couldn’t be more thankful to my teammates and the coaching staff.”

Bigbee, Knuth and Nolan’s departure also depletes the team of significant portions of its leadership, experience and passion — a void that must be filled by juniors Morgan Kuhrt, Natalie Vondrak, Suzanne Horner and Capezio, as well as some younger, rising stars. 

The team will bring back its setter in Monique Harris as well as two middle blockers in Alexis Conaway and Samara West. Iowa State will also return Big 12 Freshman of the Year winner Jess Schaben.

Johnson-Lynch knows it’ll be hard replacing Nolan as libero, but Branen Berta and Abby Phillips will compete for that spot next season.

“We return a lot of players, and we do have some question marks for sure, and people will have to continue to compete,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We have a core group of players, though, that we can build from and take another step. We’re going to keep pushing for that.”

Johnson-Lynch wasn’t finished after the press conference. She had one more task to accomplish. She walked back onto to the court and gave hugs and showed her appreciation to the families and friends that came out to Madison, Wisc., to support the Cyclones.  

Finally, the bags were packed on the bus and it started rolling out of Wisconsin Field House. As it did, Nolan looked back at the complex, catching one more glimpse of the venue that was home to her last match as a collegiate athlete.