AMES — Wide-eyed freshman.
Stone-cold killing machine.
Former Williamsburg star hitter Mackenzie Bigbie assumed both roles in what turned out to be a topsy-turvy 2011-12 regular season for Iowa State volleyball.
“The whole experience, in general, has been really great,” said the Big 12 freshman of the year, whose surging and 15th-seeded team hosts Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. first-round NCAA Tournament match against Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne at Hilton Coliseum. “Being able to be a part of such big wins like that is really a huge confidence boost. Even though we had lows, like you said, the seniors were really positive, and the coaching staff, (too) — keeping us mentally strong to push through it.”
The challenges stemmed from a grinding pre-Big 12 schedule that included three neutral site losses to top-20 teams.
Uneven play lingered into the front end of the conference slate, as ISU limped to a 3-3 start that included a dispiriting five-set loss to perennial favorite Texas.
But the Cyclones turned heartbreak against the ‘Horns into a stirring turning point.
ISU (20-7) has won 10 straight matches — including seven sweeps — since that fateful night in Austin.
“We started crushing teams and sweeping teams and we hadn’t been doing that the first half of the season at all,” said former Kennedy standout Kristen Hahn, who earned Big 12 libero of the year honors for the second straight season. “I think our seniors just finally realized that, ‘Hey, something needs to change.’ And it changed. That helped us all. We all became leaders, we all came together.”
Naturally the latest get-together came against Texas, as 4,396 fans filled Hilton to see the Cyclones’ second-win this season over a top-five team.
And, appropriately, a career night from Texas native and freshman Andie Malloy keyed the triumph.
Malloy notched personal single-match highs in kills (19) and digs (20), while setting up the clinching point.
“It’s been worth it,” said Malloy, a starter since Nov. 10. “Things have started to click.”
Just as ISU coach Christy Johnson-Lynch knew they would.
It was a matter of when, not if.
“The team never lost faith,” said Johnson-Lynch, who has guided the Cyclones to seven straight tournament berths, including four Sweet 16s in the past five years. “Even I, I think, sensed that it’s going to happen at some point. We know we’re talented. Maybe we’ve had some bumps, but when you’re talented, unless something crazy’s going on, like you have bad chemistry or you have some leadership issues, it’s going to come eventually. And we have great chemistry and we have great leadership, so we knew it was going to come.”
So did Hahn, who led the Big 12 in digs per set at 5.83 — and fully expects there’s more to this season’s story.
“I just have been stressing that every point is not enough,” Hahn said. “To focus on, ‘Yes, we’ve got this point, but we want the next one.’ I was saying that all throughout the (Texas win): ‘This is not enough.’”
It’s a gnawing hunger that merges with the steely resolve borne from the oh-so-close Texas loss that dropped ISU to 8-6.
“We all just sat there for a while, thinking about it,” said Bigbee, the only Cyclone to top 20 kills in a match this season. “And I think it was (senior) Jamie (Straube), or Kristen that said, ‘Remember this feeling and use it as motivation.’ From that point on, every time we’ve had a big match, we’ve been like, ‘Remember that feeling. You don’t want to feel it again.’”
NCAA Volleyball in Ames
What: First- and second-round matches
Who/when: Iowa State (20-7) opens with Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (25-6) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Winner plays either California (15-15) or North Carolina (25-5) at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The Bears and Tarheels face off at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Hilton Coliseum.
Tickets: $14 adults; $10 youth. Available in advance at Ticketmaster.com.
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