I mentioned it briefly in Tuesday night’s recap after it was brought up in the live blog last Saturday about the perceived lack of respect that outside hitter Ciara Capezio is receiving in her freshman season for the Cyclones.
Before we dig too deep, let’s make it clear that this perception does not come from within the program, or the Iowa State fan base. Christy Johnson-Lynch has spoken multiple times about how impressive it is that a freshman is playing all six rotations, and playing them well. This perception comes from Capezio having been shut out of the Big 12 Freshman of the Week award this season.
Now the Big 12 weekly awards are the in-season pinnacle for recognition, as shown by, what feels like, the weekly ritual of Kristen Hahn winning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week. However, weekly awards are just that, weekly. They recognize the top performances from a week. The players who tend to be punished, for lack of a better term, the most are the players who are the most consistent.
Capezio’s consistency has been staggering. Prior to her dominant match against South Dakota, Capezio had a 14-match stretch, starting against Dayton in Lincoln, Neb. (the first match after getting benched against Illinois for a two kill, five error performance) to last Saturday’s match at Baylor, which shined a light on her consistency. In those 14 matches, she averaged 3.10 kills per set at a .204 hitting percentage and 2.44 digs per set.
However, as mentioned above she had no out-of-this-world outstanding performances. Of those 14 matches she only twice averaged more than four kills per set, against Dayton with 14 kills in the ISU sweep and at Texas Tech with 12 kills. The two performances that featured the most kills were not highlight matches for Iowa State, a loss to St. Mary’s in four sets when Capezio had 15 kills and the five-set win against Texas Tech when she had 16 kills.
What highlights her consistency is that in that same 14-match stretch, only three times did Capezio average fewer than three kills per match. Those came in Iowa State’s sweep of Baylor in Ames, the five-set loss at Oklahoma and the five-set win at Kansas. In all those matches she had at least 10 digs, including her career-best 14 digs against Baylor.
Using similar metrics to measure her defensive consistency during the same 14-match stretch, Capezio had six matches where she averaged three or more digs per set. She only had three matches where she averaged fewer than two digs per set, those coming at Nebraska, at Texas Tech and against West Virginia.
By the end of the regular season, Capezio could be in elite company among Iowa State freshmen. With six regular season matches to go, she is already in the Iowa State freshman all-time top-10 for kills, attempts, hitting percentage and aces. She will make the freshman top-10 for digs and points in the next few matches. Projecting the rest of her regular season based off her current averages (which are, admittedly, helped a bit coming off a huge match against South Dakota), Capezio would finish the season with around 305 kills on around 850 attempts with 37 aces and 245 digs. All of those numbers are, knock on wood, with the NCAA Championship not factored in (you can roll the dice on that if you want, circle me for the category of waiting to see “Iowa State” on Selection Sunday).
In terms of kills that would put her slightly behind Mackenzie Bigbee’s 308 last season, with Rachel Hockaday’s 353 the top mark. A total of 850 swings would only be behind Hockaday’s 1,065, 37 aces would be third behind Linda Evans’ 50 in 1984 and Lisa Burke’s 49 in 1988, both progressive scoring-era marks. Finally, 245 digs would be the ninth-most by a freshman. Capezio would become the fifth Cyclone freshman to be in the top-10 of both the kills and digs list, joined by Hockaday, Brittany Dalager in 2001, Steph McCannon in 1992 and Tracy Graham in 1988.
Capezio has been compared to Hockaday more often than not. It is a rightful and fair comparison. Both have played all six rotations from the start of their careers. Excluding libero Ashley Mass and setter Kaylee Manns, Capezio and Hockaday have been the only freshmen to do that for Johnson-Lynch. They were both incredibly composed and calm as freshmen.
Both were very consistent in all aspects, though Capezio has attacked at a higher level than Hockaday did in terms of kills per set and hitting percentage. However, Capezio will probably miss out on a 300 kill-300 dig season due to lack of matches. Hockaday’s 2008 squad played 129 sets in 35 matches en route to ISU’s first ever Elite Eight. Iowa State can play a maximum of 33 matches this season and would reach 131 sets if every match from now through the national title match goes five sets … and of course Iowa State would have to make it to the national title match.
All of that said and we have not even mentioned that Ciara Capezio is not only a fantastic server, but one of the best in the conference. She currently ranks second in the league in aces per set, only behind Tory Knuth, and has been one of ISU’s hot servers as of late. Of Capezio’s 28 aces this season, 18 have come in Big 12 play.
In conclusion, Capezio is probably in a four-horse race currently with Kansas middle blocker Tayler Soucie, Texas middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu and West Virginia outside hitter Jordan Anderson. All four have had outstanding debut seasons and have their own reasons why they should be the Big 12 Freshman of the Year.
Capezio raised her game Tuesday against South Dakota, recording 19 kills at a .593 hitting percentage. If she can put up numbers like that a couple more times in the final six matches of the season, the race for Big 12 Freshman of the Year will belong to the Cyclones … again.