(Potential) nightmare turns to cherished dream

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Iowa State entered the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championship as one of two schools with two runners (Crystal Nelson and Katy Moen) ranked among the top dozen contenders as individuals.

The Cyclones were well positioned to reach the podium (top four) for the first year in years.

Then, Saturday morning this text came across my phone from an observer at the meet: “Katy pulled a calf muscle Tuesday and has not been able to run all week. She is going to try and start the race but it’s doubtful she can finish.”

Ouch. Podium dreams crashed.

“She (Moen) came up with an injury early in the week, so it (race preparations) was really unnerving,” Coach Andrea Grove-McDonough said. “She’s had an almost dream season and to have it come down to the wire – it terms of even being able to toe the (starting) line or get through the race – is so impressive.”

Moen did start and finish the race (she placed eighth), one spot behind her teammate and training partner (Nelson). Each was an All-American.

“I knew she (Moen) was right there because I heard people cheering,” Nelson said. “It made me push even harder.”

Cross country racing, at this level, is really a team event. All five Cyclones scorers had terrific performances. Bethanie Brown (who had not competed for 10 weeks because of injury), Perez Rotich and Margaret Connelly finished 53rd, 65th and 66th respectively.

“I’m so excited for them to get on the podium,” Grove-McDonough said. “We’ve been dreaming about this since last year.”

Moen’s season almost turned into a nightmare at nationals, but she and her teammates gutted it out and made sure it would indeed be a dream worth remembering for years.

Iowa State among Top 25 for efficient use of funds

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Does financial investment guarantee victories? That’s an age-old question for sports fans.

Do the Yankees win more than the Rays? Do the Lakers win more than the Bucks? Do the Seahawks (league-high $95.1 million payroll) win more than the Panthers?

The same question applies to college athletics.

The Department of Education (through the publishing of its Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act reports) recently released athletics department budget figures for last year. Iowa State was 49th among Power 5 (Big 12, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) schools for sports budget.

The Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup is the best all-sports ranking compiled annually. Among the Power 5 schools, the Cyclones placed 38th last season.

Combining those metrics into a “dollars spent per point earned” measure, ISU was 22nd among the 65 big-school programs. The Cyclones, in fact, finished higher in the Cup standings than two schools with budgets surpassing $100 million.

Here is the list (in order) for “dollars spent per point earned” for 2013-14.

(1-10) Stanford, Virginia, Duke, UCLA, Arizona State, North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon, Texas A&M and Florida State

(11-20) Kentucky, Penn State, USC, Maryland, Notre Dame, California, Florida, Oklahoma State, Georgia and Nebraska

(21-30) Minnesota, IOWA STATE, Colorado, Michigan State, Baylor, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and North Carolina State

(31-40) Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Michigan, Illinois, Mississippi State, Indiana, Northwestern, Texas, Washington and Missouri

(41-50) LSU, Purdue, Ole Miss, Alabama, South Carolina, Auburn, Utah, Ohio State, Wake Forest and Texas Tech

(51-60) Boston College, Tennessee, Syracuse, Clemson, Miami (Fla.), Oregon State, West Virginia, Kansas, Georgia Tech and Pitt

(61-65) TCU, Rutgers, Kansas State, Iowa and Washington State

The “X’s and O’s” on Iowa State’s resurgence

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Iowa State has won four straight volleyball matches, including two against ranked opponents. That followed a 7-7 mark in is previous 14 outings, so there’s been a dramatic improvement.

Why the turn-around?

The “6-2” system, of course.

A couple of weeks back during practice, Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch told her team they were going to switch attacks. She cautioned that it might work or it might fail.

“Were getting lots of good performances from lots of different people,” Johnson-Lynch said of her team since the strategy shift. “What’s nice about the ‘6-2’ is that if one or two people are off, we’ve got other hitters to step up.”

Essentially, the “6-2” features two setters and many more substitutions. That’s the laymen’s explanation.

For a more detailed analysis of what’s different and why it works, click here to watch Cyclones.tv’s  Kyle Steingreaber share the X’s and O’s of the system along with some reaction from the players on the impact it has had.

The Cyclones will employ the “6-2” again Wednesday when it visits Kansas for a huge Big 12 match.

“They (the Jayhawks) have the ‘double quick’, which means they have a front quick and also slide at the same time,” Johnson-Lynch explained to the media Monday.

Sorry, Cyclones.tv doesn’t have a video available to break down that attack. You’ll have to take Johnson-Lynch at her word on that one.

Cyclones could lead the Big 12 again

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During the Packers’ Sunday night dismantling of the Eagles, the TV announcers said Green Bay had largely avoided the injury bug this season. Fourteen Packers have started every game and three others missed just one each.

That goes a long way in explaining Green Bay’s six wins in the last seven games and outscoring the opposition by 172 points during that timeframe.

That also got me thinking.

Des Moines Register columnist Randy Peterson wrote the following about the Cyclones on a recent live chat: “I’ve said many times that Iowa State’s top 22 players can play with most everyone in the Big 12. Once injuries start happening, then that’s no longer the situation. The Cyclones need more Big 12-caliber depth.”

Fair point. ISU has suffered 10 season-ending injuries to players who have been listed in the two-deep. Five freshmen have started at least one game in ’14. This wasn’t the blueprint the Cyclones had in mind when they broke camp.

With three games remaining, Paul Rhoads’ team could lead the Big 12 in a category for the second year in a row… fewest players to start every game.

The Cyclones have a bit of ground to make up, but they are in the mix.

Texas Tech – this week’s opponent – has seven players who have started each week in 2014. The Cyclones have just eight.

A year ago, Iowa State had six players start every week. That was the fewest in the Big 12.

Peterson’s point is that ISU needs more Big 12-caliber depth. And, for the second year in a row that has been especially true. Rhoads isn’t using it an excuse, and that’s commendable. But, it is reality.

Cyclones score at least 90 (again) but do so in a different way

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In its season opener vs. Oakland, Iowa State scored at least 90 points for the 22nd time since Fred Hoiberg became coach. The way it happened, however, was a tad different than normal.

The Cyclones made 7-16 shots from three-point territory, the fewest makes and attempts from that distance in any of the 90-point games under Hoiberg.

“We felt there were some match-ups we could expose,” Hoiberg said on his post-game radio show. “It was our ‘bigs’ (Georges Niang and Dustin Hogue). There were so many isolation opportunities that we wanted to take advantage of.”

The result was that Niang tallied a career-high 30 points and Hogue repeatedly found himself at the free throw line.

In the other 21 games that Iowa State scored at least 90 points for Hoiberg, the team attempted nearly 27 shots from long range and made just more than 11.

“I really thought we took what the defense gave us,” Hoiberg summarized.

Interestingly, in the six games that Iowa State has scored 90 or more points and attempted less than 20 three pointers, they’ve made 52% from distance.

What’s most exciting is that Iowa State’s high-scoring offense isn’t dependent solely on three-point shooting. That was evident again Friday night.

A special signing day for Pollard and Sanders’ families

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Jamie Pollard and Calli Sanders are two of the three (David Harris is the other) sports administrators at Iowa State University.

As such, national signing day is an exciting time to monitor as a sport administrators. Signing day is when the future for each of the Cyclones’ 18 intercollegiate sports begins to take shape. It’s when rosters are replenished.

Pollard has ultimate authority over all of the school’s teams and Sanders has direct oversight of 15 sports. But, signing day yesterday had a different feel for two of ISU’s senior administrators.

Pollard’s son, Thomas, signed an NLI to become a Cyclone. One of the nation’s top prep distance runners, the Gilbert (Iowa) prep had all of the nation’s top programs seeking his talents. But, Thomas chose Iowa State.

It’s probably not a stretch that Jamie, wife Ellen and siblings Annie, Maggie and James were smiling ear-to-ear.

In the Sanders’ household, Ames High School senior Molly Sanders announced she will play college basketball at Navy. Although Molly’s collegiate career will take place more than a 1,000 miles from home, Calli, husband Rick and their kids (T and Jack) were thrilled, too.

The road to earning a Division 1 scholarship is long and has lots of traffic. It is highly competitive. There is a small percentage of prep athletes, who get the chance.

For two children of Cyclone administrators to get that opportunity is rare, I’d think.

What isn’t debatable is that Wednesday’s announcements were a bit different and even more exciting for Pollard and Sanders.

Committee doing more than ranking by losses… thankfully

The College Football Playoff committee spoke again Tuesday night.

It was enlightening (more data to sift through) and uplifting (more hints were provided as to what the committee truly values).

One thing jumped out to me.

Oregon passing Florida State demonstrated that this committee is NOT simply listing teams in order of fewest losses. Thank you!

For years, the coaches’ and media polls have basically ranked most teams that way. An undefeated team is not necessarily better than a one-loss team. It’s so refreshing to see the committee really assess the teams and rank them (beyond just record) with the data available today.

A couple years back, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said that he looks at teams and tries to pick who the best one is. He didn’t share the specifics of what he weighed or valued. But, there weren’t hard-and-fast rules for him (including simply listing by teams by the number in the loss column).

Another hot topic this week has been the TCU vs. Baylor discussion. Same record, same league (and eventually) same conference opponents. The Bears, or course, won the head-to-head matchup.

For purposes of filling the six major bowls (playoff match-ups in the Rose and Sugar plus the Peach, Fiesta, Orange and Cotton Bowls), the Big 12 has to have a definitive champ. If those two schools do tie, Baylor is the champ. But, that doesn’t mean the CFP committee has to pick the Bears for the four-team playoff. It could choose TCU and move Baylor to one of the other major games.

Some people are having a hard time with that. But, every league could face the same thing.

Think of it this way. Let’s say Missouri goes on to win the SEC East Division and has 2-3 losses. Say Mississippi State runs the table to finish 12-0. Then, say the Tigers take the SEC title game beating MSU.

Then, it’s the same dilemma as the Big 12 scenario. Mizzou is guaranteed a spot in one of the six big bowls (as SEC champ), but the CFP committee could still pick a one-loss SEC team (M-State in this case) for the four-team playoff.

As has been said for weeks, let it all play out and enjoy that process.

The difference between “needs” and “wants”

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Paul Rhoads told the post-game radio audience Saturday that he visited with his team about “needs” and “wants”.

The coach emphasized there was a significant difference between those terms. And, that difference was on full display at Kansas.

The Jayhawks, who entered the contest with a seven-game Big 12 losing streak, played as though they “needed” a victory.

In contrast, Rhoads said his team traveled to Lawrence in “hope” of a victory.

For teams like the Cyclones and Jayhawks this year, there is a slim margin between wins and losses.

That margin is frequently tied to attitude and emotion. In other terms, “needing” a win versus “wanting” a win.

Iowa State gets it final bye week of the season now. The rest will help some of those ailing physically. That list is pretty long, too.

Most important, however, is for the Cyclones to hit the mental re-set.

With Texas Tech on deck next on Nov. 22, the Cyclones have to flip the mindset script from last week. They’ve got nearly two weeks to do it.

Will “6-2″ be the spark for Cyclones?

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In the week leading up to Iowa State’s volleyball match vs. Kansas State, the Cyclones were installing a new system.

They were preparing to implement a “6-2” attack, which features two setters and a lot substitutions. The 22nd-ranked Wildcats had no idea of the change.

“K-State didn’t know what expect,” Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. “But, neither did we.”

The coach wasn’t certain if the “6-2” system would work.

“I felt we would look really smart or really stupid,” Johnson-Lynch admitted.

After a three-set sweep of the nationally ranked Wildcats, she was quite pleased.

“We found a lineup, finally,” Johnson-Lynch said. “It allows us to use our personnel the best way.”

As the regular season winds down, the change sparked an excitement.

“It’s November and (the offense) is something new,” Johnson-Lynch said. “That doesn’t happen and it got us fired up because it’s something different. I feel like it gave us a shot of adrenalin.”

More than 75% of the regular-season schedule is already in the books. It’s a unique time to make the switch.

“But, it won’t be a ‘we fixed it’ and we’re good to go,” Johnson-Lynch suggested. “We have some things we need to get better at.”

With a half-dozen regular-season games left, it will interesting to monitor the team’s progress.

Cyclone have second-fewest every game starters in league

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Four of the first five questions at Paul Rhoads’ Monday news conference were about injuries.

How serious was Jevohn Miller injured? What is Devlyn Cousins’ status? How do injuries affect a team and how do you work through them? What is QB Sam Richardson’s availability?

It has been that kind of year for Rhoads and his staff.

The number of season-ending injuries is closing in on double figures. And, that includes only guys that spent time in the two-deep.

Ten of the 22 every-down positions had a different starter Saturday than what ISU used in the season opener eight games ago.

It has been that kind of year for Rhoads and his staff.

The Cyclones have 10 players, who have started every game so far. That number will drop to nine this week as Miller has already been ruled out for Kansas.

Texas Tech (seven) and ISU have the fewest number of players who have started each week. TCU (16), Oklahoma (16) and Kansas State (15) have the most. They also sit towards the top of the league standings.

It has been that kind of year for Rhoads and his staff.

Last week, the Cyclones were unable to slow the Sooners’ rushing attack. That’s a fact. Going into spring practice, Iowa State probably would have listed Rodney Coe, David Irving, Brandon Jensen and Cousins as their top interior linemen. Only Jensen (couple of plays) saw action vs. OU.

“The injuries have placed a heavy load on us,” Rhoads said.

It has been that kind of year for Rhoads and his staff.

But, you keep your head up and compete. Rhoads’ teams have done that pretty consistently. That is the expectation for Saturday in Lawrence, too.