Notebook: Deja vu and a switcheroo highlight Iowa State volleyball’s loss to Texas

Max Dible

The end of the second set marks a sort of halftime in volleyball matches as teams head into the locker room for a ten minute break in the action.

The winner of the third set is not an infallible predictor of the match’s ultimate victor, but more often than not, the team that wins the third set claims the match as well.

Before entering their match against the Longhorns, the Cyclones had been tied 1-1 going into the break in five Big 12 games this season. 

Against West Virginia, Kansas and Oklahoma, Iowa State won the third set and went on to capture the match. Against Texas Christian, Iowa State lost the third set after a 1-1 tie and went on to drop the match.

The only break in the pattern was against Texas Tech when the Cyclones won the third set to take a 2-1 lead, but fell in five sets to the Red Raiders.

Against No. 5 Texas, Iowa State again found itself tied 1-1.

“This whole entire year we have been preaching how do we come out in the third set with a lot of energy,” said junior libero Caitlin Nolan. “We just need to figure that out a little bit more.”

Texas pounced on Iowa State in the third set, winning 25-14. ISU volleyball coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said that the way the scenario played out was all too familiar for an ISU team that is 1-5 against ranked opponents on the season.

“We talked a lot about competing for the entire match and not just for part of the match,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We just really could not sustain that level that we needed to play.”

More than a gimmick?

Watching her team travel down an inauspicious path characterized by a lack of energy, Johnson-Lynch threw convention out the window and tried to incorporate a new style of play.

The adjustment was a change in the setup on the court, shifting from a five-one rotation to a six-two in an effort to jolt the Cyclones out of their tailspin and hopefully confuse the Longhorns enough to capitalize.

The move had the opposite affect.

“We tried a lot of different things,” Johnson-Lynch said. “When we went to a six-two, we looked a little bit disorganized at times and, again we threw quite a lot of different people out there. That is on me. I need to make sure that we are more organized if we are going to try something that we have not really seen all year.”

Redshirt junior Tory Knuth and freshman Monique Harris both saw action in the fourth set when Johnson-Lynch made the strategic switch.

The two had played sparingly this season, but despite the failure of the six-two attack, Johnson-Lynch said the proverbial Hail Mary did produce some meaningful results.

“It does not matter what system you are in. It may not look great if Texas is playing great,” Johnson-Lynch said. “But for me, it was good to see because I want to see how players respond. I want to see how our passing holds up in the six-two. It allows us to evaluate a couple different things.”

The takeaway

Iowa State has toppled only one ranked opponent this season when it defeated Kansas at home. The Cyclones also knocked off the Sooners, who are currently in the nation’s top 20, but had not ascended to that level at the time of the ISU victory.

Johnson-Lynch looked at Texas as a measuring stick moving forward, and when the final whistle blew, the ISU coach was left feeling only partially satisfied.

“My takeaway is we are good,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We can be good for two [sets], so that is encouraging. Now we have to be good for three, four and five [sets]. We can play with a team like Texas. They are one of the top teams in the country, we have to maintain that level.”