ISU volleyball prepares for ‘battle’ against Northern Iowa


Redshirt junior outside hitter Morgan Kuhrt (left) and sophomore middle blocker Alexis Conaway (right) miss the block from an Iowa hitter. Kuhrt had 11 digs and Conaway came out with four digs in the 25-17, 17-25, 18-25, 26-28 loss on Friday. 

Kevin Horner

Historically, a win against Northern Iowa has rarely come easy for the ISU volleyball team.

The in-state competitors have matched up 52 times since 1977 and have split the series, each team winning 26 matches. It’s been just as competitive recently, with the Cyclones claiming the past two contests in the fifth set. 

Iowa State will have the opportunity to take the series lead at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday when it squares off against UNI at Hilton Coliseum. Although Iowa State has won the last three matches against UNI, it’s not going to overlook its familiar opponent.

“[UNI] battles,” said redshirt junior Morgan Kuhrt. “They are such a battling team. Their defense is crazy; they get everything up.”

It took a couple of battles to defeat the Panthers in 2013 and 2014. Iowa State jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in both instances, claiming the opening two sets with little trouble.

But UNI rallied to win the next two sets in both of those matches — at times with more ease than the Cyclones had building their 2-0 leads.

Nevertheless, the Cyclones found a way to rally back and claim both of the final sets — and subsequently, both of the matches.

“They come back in the third and fourth games because they don’t let any ball hit the ground,” said senior Caitlin Nolan. “They’re always a really good defensive team.”

UNI’s tough defense has carried over from past seasons, continuing to define the team in 2015. UNI has recorded 665 digs through 37 sets.

Although that number puts the Panthers at just No. 16 in total digs among Division I teams, in terms of efficiency, or digs per set, UNI ranks fourth.

The Panthers have averaged 17.97 digs per set through nine matches this season. UNI has a 4.26-point advantage in that category compared to Iowa State’s nine previous opponents in 2015.

So how will the Cyclones compensate for those extra digs that UNI will put up?

“Calling out smart shots and being resilient,” Nolan said. “You might not get the first kill always. It might be the fourth or fifth kill.”

The Cyclones saw a similarly stingy defense from Iowa during the Cy-Hawk match Friday. When Iowa State was beginning to mount a comeback in the fourth set after dropping the previous two, it was the Hawkeyes who stepped up defensively.

As ISU volleyball coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said following the loss to Iowa, it was the ability of the Hawkeyes to “make some spectacular plays to keep the ball alive” that led to the Cyclones’ eventual defeat.

Johnson-Lynch did not just attribute the defensive effort to Iowa’s defense alone, but also to the extra push of the Cy-Hawk rivalry.

Although the UNI-Iowa State rivalry is not as publicized as the Cy-Hawk, the in-state matchup may still provide that extra boost needed for a final push — potentially in the fifth set — as both teams have become accustomed to needing when playing each other.

“It’s fun to play another team from Iowa,” said sophomore Alexis Conaway. “The crowd is bigger, and there’s a lot of excitement going on. We really just want to take it to them, compete hard and have a fun game.”