2018 NIVC Championship preview
The 2018 National Invitational Volleyball Championship will crown a champion on Tuesday evening, with Iowa State (20-13) hosting Tulane (29-8) at 7:30 p.m. ET. This is the second NIVC since its revival; Ole Miss topped Texas Tech for the title in 2017. Previous winners of the event are:
1989 – Wisconsin
1990 – Houston
1991 – Kentucky
1992 – Washington State
1993 – Louisiana State
1994 – Cal-State Northridge
1995 – Wisconsin
IOWA STATE – The Cyclones tied for third place in the Big 12, won four straight matches to end the regular season and haven’t shown much wobble in the NIVC, either. North Texas did win the first set of their quarterfinal match, but ISU swept the next three sets; in the semis, UNLV applied some pressure, but Iowa State won both sets that went past 25 points.
The two latest victories came despite the loss of senior Grace Lazard, who was dismissed from the team after a rules violation. Fellow senior Jess Schaben, a three-time Big 12 first-team selection, has 502 kills on the season and 19 double-doubles (she had 13 digs in the semis). Sophomore setter Piper Mauck is handling the task extremely well, averaging 11.14 assists per set with a total of 1,248 for the year. Another young player offering important production is freshman Eleanor Holthaus (255 kills).
“We’ve never played in the NIVC,” ISU head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch told the Iowa Gazette. “I don’t think I appreciated how much of a grind this is. We have had to dig deep these last couple of weeks. The NCAA Tournament just has a different feel.
“Their bodies are tired, they’re going into finals — there are a lot of reasons they could say, ‘You know what, I’ll go through the motions.’ But they’re not. They’re getting better and they’re showing so much courage. We have some tough kids.”
Johnson-Lynch is in her 14th year with the Cyclones. In the nine years before her time as head coach, Iowa State had a conference record of 13-167; her teams have complied a Big 12 mark of 152-80.
TULANE – The Green Wave experienced an early scare in the NIVC, getting pushed to five sets against an underrated squad from Arkansas State. But Tulane showed its explosive nature, winning set four 25-8 before pulling out the finale in Round 1, 15-13.
Head coach Jim Barnes is in his third year and has helped dim memories of some down years (Tulane was 15-49 overall in 20-14-15). The team has a very democratic offense, with five players ringing up at least 250 kills on the year. Sophomore Lexie Douglas (346) and junior Erika Hansel (344) lead the way, staying in step nicely with a young duo of setters, freshman Taylor Henigsman and sophomore Jenna Ibieta.
If there’s an X-factor for the Green Wave, look for junior libero Kaylie McHugh to make her mark. She’s the program’s most accomplished defender and set the American Athletic Conference single-season record for aces with 58. She credits her three brothers (who are 15, 12 and 10 years older than she) for honing her competitive edge.
Tulane is in for a challenge in playing at Iowa State, but the roster already understands how to play in adverse conditions – leading hitter Kristen Thompson had to be shut down earlier in the year with a knee injury, and the Green Wave dropped four straight matches while trying to reconfigure the lineup.
“We knew we’d be better and be a good team, but we also knew we’d need to start two or three freshmen. You’re never quite sure how that will work out, but we did have the depth and talent,” said Barnes, who has also run the show at Lamar, Wyoming and Baylor in his career. “We started playing really well, then lost our best attacker and blocker and ended up starting a fourth freshman. I needed them to understand what we were going though. They were confused; they knew we were making an adjustment after losing Kristen. And of course when you’re losing (matches), you think we’re terrible at that moment. But we were barely losing sets.”