AMES, Iowa – The No. 18 Cyclones (22-7, 13-3 Big 12) are moving on to the Sweet 16 after taking down No. 24 North Carolina (26-6, 16-4 ACC) in their third five-set win in as many matches (25-22, 18-25, 23-25, 25-16, 15-13) on Friday at Hilton Coliseum. The win extends Iowa State’s winning streak to 12 matches, a program record.
“What a battle,” Iowa State head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. “North Carolina is such a great team. What a fun team to play; they are great competitors. I thought [Rachel] Hockaday was huge today. She provides so much leadership and competitiveness and experience. She was key.”
The senior Hockaday, who has played almost exclusively in the back row in recent weeks, finished the night playing all six rotations for the Cyclones, who struggled on offense for much of the match and finished the night with just a .203 hitting mark.
The Cyclones again fell behind two sets to one and had to claw their way to a fourth set victory against a feisty North Carolina team followed by a back-and-forth battle in the fifth set. There were six ties in the final set as neither team could was able to pull away. A kill by Hockaday gave the Cyclones a 13-11 lead, followed by a kill by UNC’s Lauren Adkins. Two consecutive Tar Heel ball handling errors gave the Cyclones the 15-13 set victory and sent Iowa State to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row and the fifth time in six seasons.
Tenisha Matlock led a quartet of Cyclones with double-digit kills, posting 17 on the night while posting a career-best four solo blocks and adding four block assists in what Johnson-Lynch called “a career game” for the junior middle blocker.
Andie Malloy (11), Mackenzie Bigbee (10) and Victoria Hurtt (10) also reached 10 kills for the home team. North Carolina freshman Paige Neuenfeldt paced all players with 17 kills in the contest.
Big 12 Libero of the Year, Kristen Hahn, collected 28 digs for her third-straight match of more than 20 digs and her 17th such match of the season. Hahn has reached the 25-dig mark in two of Iowa State’s last three matches.
Tory Knuth came up big for Iowa State, coming off the bench for two solo blocks, two block assists, seven kills, five digs and an assist.
In the first set, Iowa State led 14-11 and 20-17 but the Tar Heels rallied to tie the score both times before the Cyclones finished the game on a 5-2 run, helped by two errors from Kayla Berringer and the final kill of the match, a tip from Jamie Straube. Malloy had eight kills in the set to lead all scorers.
UNC controlled set two, jumping out to an early 7-2 lead and never letting the Cyclones into the action, pulling away, to even the match, 1-1. Iowa State’s offense dropped from .277 in game one to .121 in game two while the visitors recorded five blocks to aid their effort.
The Tar Heels’ strong block continued out of the intermission, with the team getting their first point of the set on a block and tallying five blocks in the set. Neither team’s offense got going in game three, and the teams entered game four with sub-.200 hitting percentages on the night. The Cyclones had 11 more digs than North Carolina through three games and Malloy led all players with 11 kills.
Down but never out, Iowa State exploded in game four, hitting .343, the first set of .300 hitting for either team on the night, and tallying six blocks, including three solo blocks from Matlock. A kill from Hockaday put the Cyclones up 18-9 and UNC never recovered as Knuth notched the match-tying kill.
Moving on to the NCAA Sweet 16, Iowa State will travel to Berkeley, Calif. and play the winner of the Stanford subregional on Friday Dec. 7. The match time has not yet been announced.