Make it two sweeps in two nights.
The Iowa State volleyball team advanced to the third round of the National Invitational Volleyball Championship on Friday night by sweeping Bradley University of the Missouri Valley Conference. The sweep comes roughly 24 hours after the Cyclones swept another MVC foe in Drake in the first round of the tournament.
Despite the sweep, the Cyclones weren't especially dominant throughout the match, particularly in its early stages. For much of the first two games, Bradley kept things close, trading punches and never letting Iowa State get a comfortable lead.
However, Iowa State's talent eventually took over and the Cyclones dominated the final set of the match to keep their season alive, at least for one more game.
"It wasn't our best, but I thought we improved on somethings from last night," said coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. "They were kind of abusing our block there to start the first half of the match, and then I thought slowly, over time, we started to get a little better."
That was especially reflected in the first set, as Bradley got out to a hot start early on by taking the first four points of the set. This forced Johnson-Lynch to call an early timeout in an attempt to get the team refocused.
According to players, the lack of focus and early struggles with Bradley, and in particular its outside hitters, was due to the team's attitude to start the match. Sophomore libero Izzy Enna said that the team came out of the gates playing slightly timid, due in part to some over-confidence.
However, as the match went on and the team settled in, Enna said that the Cyclones were figure out how to slow down Bradley's outside hitters.
"I just think we really adjusted to what they were doing. The outsides were really killing us in the first set," Enna said. "We finally figured them out and I think that's what really helped us with our block, and even our defense. We just worked around what they were doing."
Those adjustments led to a dominant third set, in which the Cyclones hit the ball blocked five balls and hit at a .367 percent clip. When it was all said and done, the Cyclones held the Braves to a .000 percent hitting percentage in the final set and just a .116 percentage overall.
That kind of effort from the team has become more common in recent weeks, and has propelled the Cyclones to a six-game winning streak that dates back to the regular season.
The current streak is Iowa State's longest of the season, and Enna, along with senior outside hitter Jess Schaben, said after the match that the team is in the midst of its best volleyball of the season. Their coach, however, didn't see things the same way, due in large part to the team's performance over the last two nights.
"I've seen us play better," Johnson-Lynch said. "I thought the last two weeks of Big 12 (conference play), there were some matches where I thought 'we are peaking.' I don't think we're quite back to that level."
With that being said, Johnson-Lynch said she understands that it's difficult to play at that level all the time, and complimented her team on improving on a night-to-night basis.
"It's really hard in any sport to just, every match, keep getting better and better," Johnson-Lynch said. "But again, I thought today was better than yesterday."
One player who has been consistently great over the current win streak is the aforementioned Schaben, who had another impressive performance Friday with 17 kills and 12 digs.
This comes just one night after Schaben had 18 kills and 14 digs against Drake. Since the team began it's streak against West Virginia, Schaben has turned her game another level, averaging 17 kills per game. If you go back one game further to the Cyclones' last loss, a match against Baylor in which she had 26 kills, Schaben is averaging over 21 kills per game.
Overall, Schaben said that both her and the team's success is due in large part to the fact that the team is playing with no pressure. With Iowa State outside of the NCAA tournament, Schaben said the team is solely playing for the love of the sport at this point.
And as it turns out, that mentality has been incredibly freeing for the Cyclones.
"I think it's all about having fun at this point," Schaben said. "That's why we're doing this. Because we just want to keep playing, and I think from here on out we're not nervous because we're there to have fun."