Women's volleyball: Ranked for first time since 2013, Iowa State re-emerging among country's elite
When Samara West arrived at Iowa State as a freshman in 2013, the Iowa State volleyball team opened the season ranked 15th in the nation and climbed as high as 11th before dropping in and out of the poll the rest of the year.
West redshirted that season, but given ISU's success under Christy Johnson-Lynch, she expected her teams would be spending plenty of time in the top 25 over her four years.
ISU has made the NCAA tournament in each of West's seasons playing for the Cyclones, but it wasn't until three weeks ago that they made their reappearance into the AVCA top 25.
"When we were ranked, I was like, 'Geez, I don't remember the last time we were ranked," West said Wednesday. "I was like, 'It's been a long time.'"
The Cyclones have proven they belong in that top 25 and perhaps near the top of it with their 9-1 start that includes a win over then-No. 8 Creighton over the weekend.
"They're such a great team," West said. "Beating them was making a statement we can do anything we put our minds to."
One of the biggest helpers has been one of the biggest issues for ISU in years past. Their blocking, a point of emphasis for Johnson-Lynch in recent seasons, is second in the Big 12 in just more than 3 per set.
"I think our blocking has come all together," West said. "We switched to swing blocking which helped us out. Just being more dynamic and allowing us to get more blocks, allowing us to be bigger.
"We've worked on it quite a lot, especially during last spring. We put a lot of effort into it in the preseason, too. Over that short amount of time, we've made huge progress with blocking."
West has also noticed a resiliency about this team that has helped it navigate its schedule with just one setback.
"When we're down sets," she said, "we've actually came back and won those sets. I feel like last year we couldn't do that as a team. This year, we've shown so many different strides and progress and never even giving up.
"When we're down like that, we always try to get some energy, talk more with the team. I would say it's more mental."
Now ISU enters Big 12 play at home on Saturday against Oklahoma, with Texas (6) and Kansas (12) ranked ahead of them in the polls to start league play.
"I feel like we're prepared for the Big 12," West said. "It's great to be (ranked) No. 18 going into Big 12. That's nice."
In fact, it's nice to be ranked at all after a hiatus for a team that in some ways has become a victim of its own success under Johnson-Lynch, where high-level play has become the expectation after she resurrected the program.
"Being ranked again, is just an amazing feeling," West said. "We've put so much effort in in the summer and spring, to be where we are today.
"I feel like everyone on the team has the same mentality, wanting to be a top-10 team in the nation and goals of being Big 12 champions."
This article is written by Travis Hines from Ames Tribune, Iowa and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.