There is not an official list of Christy Johnson-Lynch buzzwords or catchphrases, but there are words that you hear and it catches on that they are topics CJL likes talking about. “Passing” is always near the top of the list, “working on our block” has been popular the past couple of seasons and “she is amazing” has popped up a lot this year in relation to the athleticism of Alexis Conaway.
This season, the buzzword has been “depth”. While “depth” is a word that you will more or less hear every coach say at one time or another, if there is a sport where “depth” is a term not used as much it is volleyball.
The biggest factor for whether or not to take advantage of depth is whether what you are doing is working. If your team is in a groove and in control, the coaches will not touch the lineup. They will let the players play and keep riding the hot hand until it is not hot anymore. In a perfect world, the coaches will not have to make those decisions in a match. Last night in ISU’s five-set win over UNI, Christy Johnson-Lynch had to make that decision on multiple occasions. Fortunately, she had the resources on the bench that Iowa State would be able to execute a level of play to still succeed.
Take the hero of Wednesday evening’s win in Cedar Falls, Morgan Kuhrt. She was brought off the bench in the second set to take over for a hobbled Victoria Hurtt and was outstanding with her 14 kills, four in the fifth set, at a .355 hitting percentage. The average follower would probably be stunned to hear that she didn’t even play in Iowa State’s last match against Iowa. What makes that even more shocking is that the match before Iowa, at Minnesota, Kuhrt came off the bench for a struggling Ciara Capezio and got 10 kills. She has had two matches with at least 10 kills and a “DNP” in between.
That makes Kuhrt’s role challenging. The regular rotation knows the second they walk into Hilton Coliseum that they are going to be out there and will play. For those outside the regular rotation, that presents a conundrum. For the first option off the bench, like Kuhrt, that can mean anything from “I might not play tonight” to “I am going to play a primary role in the result of this match”.
That is not something you see in many other sports with, to use a basketball term, “the Sixth Man”. In football, DeVondrick Nealy is not Iowa State’s starting running back, but he knows he is going to play and he is going to get the ball. Same with Naz Long’s role last season for the men’s basketball team. He may not be in the starting five, but as one of the first options off the bench he knows he won’t be riding the bench for 40 minutes.
Kuhrt takes more of a role that Daniel Edozie did for the men’s basketball team, as addressed by Iowa State Volleyball SID Hall of Famer Matt Shoultz last season. She could not play, she could play a crucial role in the match. Regardless, the burden falls of Kuhrt to get in the proper physical and mental condition in case her number is called in a crunch situation (or for four sets like Kuhrt did last night).
What makes Kuhrt impressive is that she has taken over this role many times. Last season against Kansas State, Kuhrt came into the match with 21 kills in the 13 matches she had played in her career. She came in and posted 10 kills against the Wildcats, leading ISU to a sweep of K-State. The next month-and-a-half, she had a combined 12 kills in nine matches before being called on to play outside at TCU, finishing the match with a career-high 15 kills. When Victoria Hurtt was ill for ISU’s NCAA Championship match against Colorado last season, Kuhrt came in and helped lead the Iowa State offense as an NCAA rookie.
Kuhrt is not the only Cyclone who plays this role every match. Natalie Vondrak has played this role at both middle blocker and right side (Editor’s note: read this from John Naughton of the Des Moines Register about Vondrak getting on scholarship). Branen Berta also didn’t play against Iowa, but was called on in last night’s match. While Tory Knuth’s situation is different due to her continued rehab from her off-season shoulder surgery, she had not played more than one set since the Florida State match and she was called on for extended time last night.
In conclusion, what is crucial for Iowa State is not just that there are these high-quality players that Johnson-Lynch can call upon. It is that these players are there, and Johnson-Lynch can count on them to be ready when they are called on, even if weeks pass without them getting significant playing time. Options like that off the bench can be the difference between going home with a loss, and going home victorious.