Iowa State volleyball has found itself in rare territory this season, but not in a good way.
After entering the season ranked No. 21 in the country by the American Volleyball Coaches Association and winning five of their first six games, the bottom has fallen out on the Cyclones in recent weeks. Since that 5-1 start, the team has gone 3-8 and currently sits below the .500 mark for the first time since 2014.
On top of that, Iowa State has dropped three straight Big 12 Conference games after beginning conference play with a win over West Virginia. That hasn’t happened for the Cyclones since 2008, when they dropped four straight conference games.
For reference, that was so long ago that two of those conference losses came to Nebraska and Missouri, who aren’t even in the Big 12 anymore. It speaks to the quality of Iowa State’s program that its been 10 years since that feat, and the losing has understandably left players in a strange new world.
“You can kind of tell people are freaking out a little bit,” said redshirt junior libero Hali Hillegas. “But I think that’s why I think we need to push that much more as a team and try and figure those kinks out.”
The Cyclones will have to try and work out those kinks — while simultaneously trying to avoid matching the four-game losing streak from 2008 — against one of the toughest teams in the country.
This Saturday, the Cyclones will travel to Austin to take on Texas. The Longhorns are currently ranked No. 4 in the country and are a traditional power in college volleyball, meaning that the players Iowa State will have to deal with blue-chip caliber players and an incredibly hostile environment.
Needless to say, Iowa State will likely be significant underdogs heading into the matchup. On one hand, it may be a good thing, as coach Christy Johnson-Lynch mentioned at one point that it’s important to keep fighting and for the team to start playing loose and free. It’ll certainly be a lot easier to do that when the expectations are low.
However, Johnson-Lynch also cautioned playing too loose can backfire as well, citing concerns about frustration creeping in over the course of the game if things aren’t going well.
“We have to be careful not to let frustration creep in,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Sometimes when you’re losing, you can point the finger at other people and blame other people. That’s very easy to do and teams do that.
“We can’t fall into that, even if we’re playing Texas and feel like we have nothing to lose, it’s easy to have that negative approach. That’s not going to help anybody.”
To that, Johnson-Lynch seemed more inclined to focus on the things that are actually going right. In the previous game against Oklahoma, she specifically cited great individual performances from freshman right side hitter Eleanor Holthaus and sophomore middle blocker Candelaria Herrera.
Johnson-Lynch then added most of the team has shown positives at one point or another throughout the season, and it’s all just a matter of putting it all together at this point. Essentially, the team feels that they’re capable of playing well and winning big games, they just have to finally show it.
It would be quite a feat to do that against a team like Texas, but players like Hillegas are saying it’s close to happening. With time beginning to become a factor in this season, now would be a convenient time for a breakthrough, and the team knows that it will have to happen sooner rather than later if they want to be playing the postseason.
But even with the admitted sense of urgency, the Cyclones aren’t currently focused on the end goal. Right now, players say, it’s about getting back in the win column and focusing on what they can control at the moment.
“Right now, it’s just a day-by-day thing,” Holthaus said. “(We’re) just trying to figure out what works best for us.”