Closing in on the end of the Big 12 season, Iowa State faces West Virginia at home Wednesday in a must-win game for the Cyclones.
The Cyclones, who have a record of 14-8 overall (5-5 Big 12), are sitting in fourth place in the conference standings and are two games behind third place Oklahoma. The Sooners are 7-3 in conference play. Last season, a 9-7 conference record and third-place finish only got the Cyclones in the NIVC Tournament and not the NCAA Tournament.
Against West Virginia, the Cyclones have a winnable matchup — the two teams will square off at 6:30 p.m. in Hilton Coliseum. The Mountaineers have an overall record of 11-12 and are currently 2-8 in the Big 12, with their only two wins coming against Kansas State.
Iowa State beat West Virginia 3-0 on the road Oct. 5, and coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said the Cyclones will be playing a team that hasn’t seen significant changes since.
“We’re a very good passing team, defensive team and then our offense can be very electrifying too, so I think if we get all of our key components going then we’ll be able to pull out a win [against West Virginia],” Eleanor Holthaus said.
Johnson-Lynch identified Holthaus as a player who has been playing well as of late, and said she had a really good week against TCU on Oct. 30 and Baylor on Sunday.
In both games, Holthaus out-paced all Cyclones for the most kills with 11 kills against TCU and 16 kills against Baylor. She had a hitting percentage of .333 against TCU and a percentage of .294 against Baylor, a team Johnson-Lynch said is really good defensively.
This season, Baylor is the best team in opponent hitting percentage and has only allowed an average of .156.
Despite getting swept by Baylor, Jaiden Centeno said the Cyclones came in with the right mindset against the second-best team in the conference.
“I think we came in with a lot of intensity and we came in pretty prepared for the game, but I just think we needed to push through at the end,” Centeno said.
The Cyclones almost stole a set from Baylor when they pushed the Lady Bears in the second set before Baylor took the set 29-27.
Baylor hit .379 against the Cyclones on Sunday, but Johnson-Lynch said the Cyclones have been improving on the defensive end this past month.
“We’ve kind of stopped shuffling people around; we did have our defensive players kind of moving around a little bit,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We’ve tried to kind of keep them in the same spot and let them get really comfortable.”
During the month of October, the Cyclones had eight Big 12 games and only allowed their opponents to hit .168.
Part of that success is the work of middle blocker Avery Rhodes, who leads the Cyclones in blocks per set and ranks in the top-10 in the Big 12 in that category.
With that being said, Rhodes has been limited due to shin pain, but the Cyclones have been limiting her workload during practices, so she is fresh during games.
Johnson-Lynch said with Rhodes’ experience, she only needs a few reps in practice to stay sharp and be effective in games.
With Rhodes not 100 percent, Iowa State can alleviate some pressure against West Virginia with its serving, which Johnson-Lynch said will be important against the Mountaineers.
If the Cyclones — who rank second in the Big 12 in service aces a set — are able to force aces and poor passes, they will be able to tally up easy points from aces and blocks by forcing West Virginia’s setter away from the net and forcing her into tough situations setting.
Centeno said an issue for the Cyclones the last time they met the Mountaineers was the Cyclones' slower pace on the attack, which is not the team’s playing speed in that facet of the game.
With tournament season fast approaching, the Cyclones winning out could be the difference between a spot at the NCAA Tournament or the NIVC Tournament, and it all begins with West Virginia on Wednesday.