The Iowa State volleyball team is in prime position to make the NCAA Tournament.
The Cyclones (17-9, 8-6 Big 12) sit at fourth in the Big 12 Conference, which is a game and a half above Texas Tech (17-12, 7-8 Big 12).
The fourth place team in the Big 12 Conference has made the NCAA Tournament in four out of the last five years. The Cyclones also currently rank at 37th in the RPI. Teams with the 37th ranking of the RPI have made the NCAA tournament each of the last five years.
All that said, a win likely secures an at-large bid for the Cyclones.
But the Kansas Jayhawks (8-16, 4-10 Big 12) stand in their way.
“I hope we feel the urgency,” said coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. “We’ve been here many times before as a team and it is exciting because it is the light at the end of the tunnel from a grueling season.”
That urgency was something the Cyclones did not have in their last game against Texas Tech, where the team looked flat as a unit.
After winning the first set, the Cyclones dropped the next three to lose to the Red Raiders.
Texas Tech’s shot percentage went from .043 in the first set to nearly an average of .275 in the next three sets combined.
“Tech was definitely disappointing,” Johnson-Lynch said. “It seemed like we would have a great attack and they would dig it up and that was frustrating,” Johnson-Lynch said.
The Red Raiders did a solid job of going on runs and using momentum to their advantage. Not letting those runs get to the team is something that Iowa State is stressing this week.
Texas Tech was able to go on a run of more than five points three times during the match last week.
“When we’re on the same page, we just mesh well as a unit and it limits our errors,” said Piper Mauck, a junior setter for Iowa State.
With only one senior on the roster this year, Josie Herbst, youth may be the reason for those struggles.
But with a good junior class composed of Izzy Enna, Candelaria Herrera, and Mauck, Johnson-Lynch is convinced that the team is making improvements every week.
“The team is a little different this year but youth can be fun because they get better so quickly,” Johnson-Lynch said.
One concern for Iowa State is that Kansas has shown improvements since their last meeting with Iowa State.
While the Jayhawks have only won two of their last five games, one of those was a clean sweep of the Red Raiders. Kansas also took a set against No. 4 Texas Longhorns, who Iowa State plays on Saturday.
The first meeting between Kansas and Iowa State was nearly two months ago on Oct. 2 in Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones ended up winning three sets to zero.
In that match, Iowa State shot at a percentage of .283 compared to holding the Jayhawks to .126.
“They aren’t that much of a different team from the first time we played them but we just need that energy and communication through the whole match,” said right side hitter Eleanor Holthaus.
If the Cyclones manage to win one of the next matches, they will secure fourth place in the conference and likely a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
But with the No. 4 Texas Longhorns coming to town on Saturday, the team does not want to leave it up to chance in that game.
And while the game plan for the Jayhawks remains similar, Johnson-Lynch says one thing will be much different.
“There won’t be any lack of energy I can tell you that,” Johnson-Lynch said.