AMES — The Iowa State volleyball team has made it to the NCAA Tournament 12 straight years under head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. But for the first time since 2012, the Cyclones are hosting the first weekend of the tournament in Ames on Friday and Saturday.
Iowa State earned the No. 14 seed in the tournament; it will play unseeded Princeton at 7 p.m. Friday at Hilton Coliseum.
“We’re so excited,” senior outside hitter Alexis Conaway said. “The chance to get to play in Hilton again — we have an awesome crowd, awesome fan base and it’s just such a great place to play, so I think that’ll definitely help us going forward.”
While the Cyclones (21-6) have home-court advantage, Princeton (18-7) — the Ivy League champions — has nothing to lose.
“When you feel like you have nothing to lose, you can play free and easy, especially when you go into an opponent’s gym,” Johnson-Lynch said. “No one’s picked them to win so now they can go for it and take some risks. When teams are like that, we have to be pretty disciplined on our side and ready to go. We can’t take anything for granted. They won’t have the pressure, we will. We have to be able to handle that.”
Johnson-Lynch is hoping her senior-laden team will help the young players with the pressure, something Iowa State didn’t handle well last season.
Iowa State had a six-match winning streak at the end of the season, including a win over No. 5 Texas. However, the Cyclones were bounced in the first round of the tournament by Purdue in three sets.
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“I think we’re just more comfortable because we have so much experience,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We’re pretty heavy (with) upperclassmen this year. When you look out there, you’ve seen players that have played and started a few years for us. We’re just pretty experienced at this point and when you have experience, you have a little more consistency and you know what you’re going to get night to night. I think that’s where we’re at.”
Conaway has been a four-year starter for Johnson-Lynch and knows what it takes to get the job done.
“It’s huge, huge, huge,” Johnson-Lynch said of Conaway’s postseason experience. “She’s been in this position before, she’s played in a lot of NCAA games. Experience and leadership counts for a lot at this point in the season.”
Conaway has one major takeaway from her three previous years of NCAA Tournament experience.
“Every team is good,” Conaway said. “We learned that last year. You can’t take any team for granted. I think knowing that and being confident and knowing that we are a great team will help us and really just enjoying it, playing and having fun. Stay loose and just enjoy it is really what helps you play your best.”
Wisconsin (20-9) and Marquette (22-9) play in the other first-round match at Hilton Coliseum at 4 p.m. Friday. The winners meet in the second round at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
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