Samara West and Jess Schaben have played huge roles for Iowa State this season.
West, from Omaha North, and Schaben, from Harlan, Iowa, were first-team All-Big 12 selections for the Cyclones, who will host matches this weekend at Hilton Coliseum.
The Cyclones are the No. 14 seed, and will take on Princeton at 7 p.m. Friday. The other match on Friday will be between Wisconsin and Marquette at 4 p.m. The winners will meet at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Hosting and getting a top-16 seed is awesome, so I am really excited about that,” ISU coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. “All the teams you play in the tournament are good. We know Marquette and Wisconsin a little bit from playing them recently and we will work hard on learning about Princeton and getting ready to go.”
Iowa State finished the regular season with a 21-6 record and tied for third (11-5) in the Big 12. Schaben led ISU with 3.3 kills and 2.9 digs per set. Libero Hali Hillegas led the Big 12 with 5.62 digs per set, and the Cyclone block ranks eighth in the country at 3.03 blocks per set. Combining those, ISU is holding opponents to a .155 hitting percentage.
West, a right-side hitter, caused havoc for Big 12 opponents in her final collegiate season, ranking second on the team with 262 kills and a team-best .296 hitting percentage.
She had a particularly good match on Senior Night in a sweep of Texas Tech, collecting 10 kills with a .381 hitting percentage.
“It’s almost like (West) is so good every night, you kind of take it for granted,” Johnson-Lynch said.
West is glad to know she’ll get at least one more match at Hilton.
“I’ll definitely miss playing here,” West said. “Just the fans are amazing and I just love Iowa State. Just the team, the former teammates and the teammates I have now. It’s just going to be hard leaving them.
“I’ve definitely had a great journey here at Iowa State.”
Hanus, Tigers face rival first
Andie Hanus’ Missouri volleyball team made it as far as the sweet 16 last season.
It’s definitely something the Tigers are aiming for again.
But first they must get past a familiar foe in the first round: Kansas. The teams meet at 6 p.m. Friday in Wichita, Kansas.
Missouri (20-11) owns a 51-34 series edge against the Jayhawks (22-7).
“I think our first round against Kansas will be a great matchup, and obviously that’s a rivalry game so everybody is pretty fired up to get going,” Hanus said. “At this point, though, it’s one game at a time, and we just need to take care of business.”
Hanus, a 5-foot-8 sophomore defensive specialist from Omaha Marian, is the top defensive sub off the bench for the Tigers, with multiple digs in 19 of 31 matches.
She’s played in 104 sets, with nine assists, one ace and 92 digs. She recorded her 100th career dig at No. 4 Florida in November. She produced six digs in a win at Ole Miss in October.
Hanus is thrilled to make a repeat trip to the NCAA tournament.
“It’s something we strive for every season, so it’s pretty exciting to see all the hard work you put in all offseason and during the earlier part of the season pay off.”
Serving Shockers in a key role
Lincoln East graduate Kara Bown is a serving specialist for No. 20 Wichita State, which isn’t the easiest of jobs.
She relies on some advice she got from her club coach when she was 14, former Nebraska assistant Dan Meske.
“One thing that has really stuck with me throughout the years is his advice to trust your training,” she said. “Though it can be nerve-racking at times to be called upon during a tight match, I have to remember that I do this every day at practice, and just try to replicate it as best as possible when given the opportunity in a match.”
Bown has played in 36 sets this year and has four aces and 16 digs.
Lauren Hinrichs, a redshirt freshman from Doniphan-Trumbull, is also on the roster but has played in just seven sets with two kills and three block assists.
Thanks to a 28-3 record, a 20-match win streak in the American Athletic Conference, and the program’s highest RPI ranking, the Shockers will be home for the first two rounds. They are seeded for the first time at No. 16.
Wichita State will play Radford (25-4), the Big South champion, at 8 p.m. Friday at Koch Arena, following the match between Kansas and Missouri. The winners will meet Saturday to advance to the sweet 16.
“I am so excited to get to play in another NCAA tournament,” Bown said. “This time around should be even better, being that we get to play in our own gym and in front of our home crowd. This is the most exciting time of the season, and I’m looking forward to proving ourselves and making a bigger name for Wichita State volleyball.”
Pius grad returns to home state
Sara Boothe can’t wait to come home to compete in the NCAA tournament.
The junior setter from Lincoln Pius X plays for Coastal Carolina, which takes on host Creighton in the first round of the tournament on Friday.
“Obviously, it’s great that we made it back to the NCAA tournament, and I’m really excited that we’re playing in Omaha,” she said. “I’m from Lincoln, originally, and Omaha is only an hour away from my hometown. So that’s great for me.”
Boothe is averaging 7.24 set assists and 2.19 digs for the 20-7 Chanticleers, who earned their fourth straight postseason berth by defeating Texas State in the Sun Belt championship match.
It will be the first meeting between the Chanticleers and Bluejays since the schools faced off in the first round of the 2015 NCAA tournament. Creighton won that match in four sets.
“We took one set off of them, but we also had some crucial points that we didn’t get and at times it felt like it could go either way,” Boothe said. “So I think it will be a pretty good matchup this time.”
Boothe is hoping a lot of Pius fans will make the trip to Omaha.
“Going back home will be huge for me,” she said. “Volleyball is really popular in Nebraska, and I know all my family and friends will be there in support.”
Once a Titan, now a Trojan
Raegan LeGrand hasn’t seen much court time as a defensive specialist for USC.
But the Papillion-La Vista South sophomore gives her all every day for the Women of Troy, who have rolled into their 27th consecutive NCAA tournament.
In practice, she says, the A side goes against the B side in simulating head-to-head match situations.
“No matter where I am, I do everything I can to push myself and push the other side,” she said. “Sometimes things can get heated, but the idea is to make each other better. No matter where I am on the court, I know I have a particular role on this team, and I work hard every day to fulfill that role and help my team succeed.”
USC (22-9) is the 10th seed and will host first- and second-round matches at the Galen Center, starting with Southland Conference champion Central Arkansas (27-4) on Friday. It’s the first meeting between the schools.
LeGrand said hosting is huge.
“That was a big goal for us this season, especially since last year we didn’t even know if we would make it into the tourney,” she said. “Having home-court advantage is something we worked hard for. It wasn’t easy and the road ahead will be challenging, but I have full confidence that we will get the job done.”
Last year, the Trojans received an at-large berth and lost to Hawaii in the opening round. USC is the winner of six national championships including the first-ever NCAA title awarded in 1981.