Volleyball to take on Western Kentucky in NCAA Tournament


Senior outside hitter Victoria Hurtt leaps up to spike the ball past the waiting TCU defenders. Iowa State won this Nov. 15 match 3-2 against TCU after five close sets.

Mike Randleman

With a chance to compete at its home floor in the Sweet 16, it would be easy for the ISU volleyball team to overlook its first round matchup.

Hilton Coliseum in Ames will serve as a regional host site for the third and fourth rounds of the NCAA Tournament, but first, RPI No. 15 Iowa State (18-9, 10-6 Big 12) will head to Champaign, Illinois., to face RPI No. 35 Western Kentucky (30-5, 15-1 Conference USA).

Though the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky hail from the mid-major Conference USA, they have a history of past success. An 11-match win streak and an unorthodox offensive attack have the full attention of ISU coach Christy Johnson-Lynch.

“They’ve been really good year after year, they play with a lot of confidence,” Johnson-Lynch said. “They’re a little bit unorthodox, their offense is a little bit different from what we see, so we’ll try to prepare for that on Friday night. It’s going to be a battle. It’s a good team and it’s not a team that’s just happy to be in the tournament.”

The offensive attack Johnson-Lynch referred to involves the Hilltoppers setting slower, higher balls, resulting in a slower but more diverse attack.

Seeing a new offense, as well as a team that has reached the NCAA Tournament in four of the past five seasons, could be enough to keep the ISU players focused on their first-round matchup.

The prospect of playing at home in the third and fourth rounds and a potential second-round matchup against perennial powerhouse Illinois looms large, but the team is doing its best to focus on the first task at hand.

“It’s anybody’s game,” said junior libero Caitlin Nolan. “I think people get really caught up in, ‘Oh, this is happening, this is happening, this is our record.’ But as soon as you get to the NCAA Tournament, everyone wants it just as equally and everyone’s record is 0-0.”

With 16 teams seeded to host the first two rounds, ISU players estimated they had a 50 percent chance of hosting the first two rounds as well but were not chosen.

After a brief moment of disappointment, players insisted they are happy to be part of one of the 64 teams in the tournament, especially after Iowa State was drifting toward the NCAA Tournament bubble in the middle of the season.

“We’re just excited to be in the tournament,” said senior outside hitter Victoria Hurtt. “It’s always fun this time of year to get to play the best teams and hopefully be in Oklahoma City [at the Final Four] in a couple of weeks.”

Iowa State’s matchup with Western Kentucky will start at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 5 at Huff Hall in Champaign, Illinois. The winner of that match will take on the winner of the host-school Illinois and Murray State match. The second round match will be held at 7 p.m. on Dec. 6 at Huff Hall.