After a week of rest, Iowa State volleyball returns to action on Saturday when it faces the No. 22 Kansas Jayhawks.
The match will be an opportunity for Iowa State to build upon its two-game winning streak and potentially get back above the .500 mark on the season. That'll be easier said than done, however, as Kansas currently sits in a tie for first place in the Big 12, with a 6-1 record in conference play and 13-5 record overall.
Making matters even more difficult for the Cyclones is the fact that the game will be played in Lawrence, Kansas, where Iowa State hasn't won since 2013.
The Horejsi Family Athletics Center is one of the best home courts in the Big 12, due in large part to the crowd noise created by its relatively quaint setting. Though it helps Kansas has had plenty of success in recent years, the arena and crowd environment has nonetheless been a problem for the Cyclones and others in the past.
"It's a tough gym," said coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. "It's very small, so you feel like the crowd is on top of you, and they'll be loud and rowdy."
In Johnson-Lynch's mind, however, the biggest challenge for the Cyclones will likely be the fact Kansas is one of the best defensive teams in the Big 12.
As a whole, Kansas leads the conference in total blocks with 229 (Iowa State is second with 205), and the Jayhawks feature two players in Rachel Langs and Zoe Hill who are are in the top five in the conference in blocks per set.
The thing that the Cyclones do have going for them, however, is that the team's offensive numbers have taken a huge jump in the last three matches. Starting with the match against Texas nearly two weeks ago, Iowa State has had an average hitting percentage of .340 percent in its matches.
According to Johnson-Lynch, this match should serve as proof of whether or not that high level of offense is sustainable going forward.
"This will be the test," Johnson-Lynch said. "Can our offense still stay good against one of the best defenses in the league? We'll have to be really aggressive offensively and hit off the block."
According to players, a huge reason why the team has been so successful offensively as of late is an increase in effort and hustle amongst the team.
It wasn't necessarily bad over the course of the season, but the Cyclones felt that improving things that they can control, i.e. hustle, could potentially lead to a few extra points per set. This, in turn, would ideally lead to more set wins.
So far, that's been the case. And the team says that continuing that high level of hustle and energy could prove to be the difference on the road against a top 25 team.
"Hitting high hands, working hard for every point and working hard for the long rallies," said junior outside hitter Josie Herbst on how to defeat Kansas. "We have to just keep fighting."
If there is something that can give Iowa State some confidence going into Saturday, it's that KU is coming off its first conference loss of the season to Kansas State, a team that Iowa State beat on the road just over a week ago.
In that game, the Jayhawks' hitting percentage was only .173 percent, which follows a season-long trend of struggles with offensive efficiency. As of Thursday, Kansas currently sits at seventh of nine teams in the Big 12 with a team hitting percentage .218 percent.
While the offense does lag a bit behind the defense, Iowa State knows that Kansas is one of the top teams in the conference for a reason, and that the Jayhawks, because of their talent, are capable of stringing together a solid attack in any given match.
Because of this, the Cyclones know their best effort and solid execution will be critical in coming away with the upset.
"We just need to do what we do best," said Grace Lazard, senior middle blocker. "Just keep it simple, not overdo things and stay concentrated and focused on our task."