Iowa State volleyball lost to Texas Christian University in four sets on Saturday. The match was impacted by a few main themes.
Different the second time
Less than a month ago, Iowa State made quick work of the Horned Frogs with a three-set sweep in Ames. On Saturday, the tables were turned significantly, as the Cyclones were dominated after having a full week off.
It's probably fair to wonder if that week away stymied some of the Cyclones' momentum. Iowa State previously won four of its last five games, including its last game against Kansas State, but that week off was the second time in a calendar month that the Cyclones had a full week of rest.
It would probably be unfair to pin the entirety of Saturday's performance on that, however. TCU outplayed the Cyclones significantly, to the point where the Horned Frogs held an advantage in nearly every statistical category.
This comes in direct contrast to the matchup between the two teams that took place on Oct. 13. In that match, Iowa State hit .338 percent while holding TCU to a paltry .118 percent hitting percentage.
That's an abnormally low percentage that probably wasn't repeatable, but it's still surprising how TCU took care of the Cyclones with relative ease, even with the Cyclones playing on the road.
While extended time away — combined with improved play from TCU — are some reasons one can point to for Saturday's result, another likely factor in Iowa State's flat performance is the fact that the Cyclones were playing with very little depth.
Injuries have played a factor all season long for Iowa State, but they came to a head on Saturday as the Cyclones only dressed nine players. Among the missing was senior middle blocker Grace Lazard, who has arguably been Iowa State's most important player thus far in conference play.
Lazard's absence left Iowa State down three blockers on Saturday — including the absences of Meegan Hart and Avery Rhodes — and meant that sophomore Candelaria Herrera was the only regular middle blocker on the floor.
Winning with such little depth is a tall task as it is, but especially so on the road and in the Big 12. With the season starting to wind down, this lack of depth could come back to bite Iowa State and ultimately keep it out of the NCAA tournament.
Can the Cyclones make a late run?
If the Cyclones were to miss the tournament, it would be the first time since 2005 that Iowa State didn't make the postseason. For reference, that was Christy Johnson-Lynch's first season at the helm in Ames.
This is extremely unfamiliar territory for the Cyclones, who are perennially one of the top teams in the Big 12 and started the season ranked No. 21 in the country according to the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Usually, the Cyclones don't have to rely on late season runs to make the tourney and are instead normally readying themselves for the postseason by this point in the season.
The Cyclones certainly aren't out of it, but they'll need a strong finish to the season in order to guarantee themselves a postseason berth. Although none of the teams on Iowa State's remaining schedule are ranked, four of five are currently above the Cyclones in the standings. In fact, outside of West Virginia, Iowa States remaining schedule sees them face off against the teams currently occupying the second through fifth spots in the conference.
The good news is, Iowa State has proven in the past that it can play with anyone, and three of the last four matches are at home in Hilton Coliseum. The big key, though will not only be getting the aforementioned Lazard back healthy, but playing with the consistency that has evaded the team all season long. The Cyclones are talented enough to make a run to end the season, as evidenced by the team winning four-of-five coming into Saturday, but it'll be all for naught if the team can't play at a consistently high level.
Iowa State will be on the road once again as the Cyclones take on Baylor in Waco, Texas, on Wednesday, Nov. 7. First serve is at 7 p.m.