The judgment of non-conference volleyball matches is a challenge because it is mostly on paper. Unfortunately many of these neutral site matches are not seen outside of those who were actually at the match. While there has been a rise in the amount of content that is streamed on the internet, it is still a challenge to put that together, especially when the tournaments take place at schools that are far shorter staffed than others. For those who will watch matches on Cyclones.TV, be thankful for the investment the Iowa State Athletics Department has put in for a quality product.
That was the case for the beginning of the Iowa State volleyball season at the UND Classic in Grand Forks, N.D. this past weekend. Our two neutral matches against South Dakota State and Texas A&M were not streamed online anywhere, and the match against host North Dakota had technical difficulties that were not fixed during the Iowa State victory (UNDsports.com does have some highlights from the match that you can see here).
I was fortunate to be court side for all three matches, live blogging for fans back home in Ames, around the country and around the world (and will be for all regular season matches this season). Though the season is young and there are many more challenging opponents ahead for the No. 15 Cyclones, we are 3-0. As one of the witnesses to the events, I thought I would share some observations that fans can take into the next few matches, including our home tournament against San Diego on Friday and Illinois on Sunday.
The Iowa State attack is really good. One of the commenters on the live blog posted a great stat about the dominance of the Cyclone attack against Texas A&M. ISU’s top four hitters for the match (Mackenzie Bigbee, Victoria Hurtt, Tenisha Matlock and Natalie Vondrak) combined for 57 kills and 11 errors on 109 attacks for a hitting percentage of .422. The Cyclone attack was its strongest in the second set, a time when complacency can show up after a win in the first set, or adversity after a first-set loss. Over the three matches, ISU combined for 49 kills and nine errors on 91 attacks for a .440 hitting percentage, winning all three second sets.
Matlock was the standout performer of the weekend and the rightful recipient of the UND Classic MVP award. She was terrific in all three matches, but saved her best for Texas A&M. Matlock tied a career-high with 20 kills against the Aggies at a .528 hitting percentage. She had 10 kills against North Dakota at a .474 hitting percentage and seven kills at a .462 clip against SDSU. All adds up to 37 kills and three errors on 68 attempts to be hitting exactly .500. It is tough for middle blockers to establish themselves when they are only on the court for half the rotation, but Matlock did just that throughout the week, especially against Texas A&M.
One of the questions that needed to be answered early on was whether an all-around player could emerge and some answers came to the forefront this weekend. The tournament started with an outstanding debut from Ciara Capezio, who had 12 kills at a .458 hitting clip and seven digs against SDSU while playing all six positions. However, when Capezio began to struggle with the A&M block, head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch switched Capezio with Morgan Kuhrt, who had been playing back row for Victoria Hurtt’s position. While it will be seen whether either can be effective for the long-term, some answers did emerge. If anything, both showed themselves as strong passers, a big concern entering the season.
The team did face some adverse situations that showed the strength and depth of the Cyclones. In the first set of the South Dakota State match, Tory Knuth rolled her ankle and needed to exit the match. Vondrak came off the bench and was big for the Cyclones against the Jackrabbits and UND, which Knuth sat out with seven kills at .500 against SDSU and six kills at .417 versus North Dakota. Knuth started the A&M match, but Johnson-Lynch made the decision to go back to Vondrak in the second set, determining Knuth was not back to her full strength yet. It paid off as Vondrak posted eight kills at a .400 hitting percentage and brought great energy to the team.
This team is in by no means perfect. After combining for 22 blocks in the Cardinal and Gold Scrimmage, the Cyclones only had 12 blocks over the three matches in Grand Forks. Iowa State had 19 aces on the weekend, but also had 22 service errors, 10 against Texas A&M alone. There is a lot of work to do for the Cyclones to reach their goals in December. However, a good foundation was laid this weekend and the fans will enjoy what they see at Hilton Coliseum next weekend.