By Nick McVey
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The Iowa State volleyball team is having another strong season under head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. The Cyclones have defeated three top-25 teams this season, including a marquee victory over then No. 1 Nebraska.
As always, defense has been a key component of the team's success on the court, but this season, a new weapon has been added to the Cyclone arsenal. Iowa State freshman right side hitter Mackenzie Bigbee burst on to the scene this year and has given the offense an explosive attack.
Bigbee finished high school as the 36th ranked prospect by Prepvolleyball.com and was named to the 2011 Under Armour All-America First Team. When deciding which school was best for her, Bigbee says choosing Iowa State was easy.
"I'm very interested in chemical or materials engineering. That really had the biggest impact, in that Iowa State has an elite [volleyball] program and they have the schooling that I wanted," Bigbee said.
The left-handed hitter from Williamsburg, Iowa has been an integral part of the Cyclone attack since day one. Bigbee has notched double figures in kills in 11 of her 14 matches this season, with two matches eclipsing 20 kills. As the competition has elevated, so has her production. In matches played against teams ranked in the top-25, Bigbee has reached double-digit kills in five of the team's seven contests. Included in those matches is a 10-kill effort against the Cornhuskers and an Iowa State freshman record tying performance against No. 19 Illinois in which she tallied 25 kills.
Bigbee attributes a lot of this success to her on-court demeanor.
"I don't really get nervous, and I think that helps me a lot," Bigbee said. "I keep my composure, focus on the game and don't think about anything else. I don't let the crowd get in my head."
That focus has boosted the freshman's play onto the Big 12 leaderboard. Bigbee has recorded 177 kills this season and her 3.11 kill-per-set average ranks seventh in the Big 12. After factoring in her defensive contributions (two solo blocks and 23 block assists), the freshman hitter has tallied 190.5 points and averages 3.34 points per set, ranking 10th in the conference. Bigbee is the only freshman ranked in either category.
Iowa State head volleyball coach Christy Johnson-Lynch has been very pleased with the freshman's production this season.
"She's just a terminator," Johnson-Lynch said. "She has a great arm. She's a great athlete. She hits the ball very hard, and she hits the ball at angles that people aren't used to seeing. I think a lot of it comes from her athletic ability and her great arm speed."
Not even Bigbee herself expected to have such a strong impact in her first season.
"I wasn't even sure if I was going to be able to start this year," Bigbee said. "I just wanted to do everything I could do to contribute. I wanted to do my best to help the team, and I had no idea I would have such an early impact."
Cyclone setter Alison Landwehr, who is ranked third in the Big 12 with 11.03 assists per set, has been pleasantly surprised by Bigbee's emergence.
"I don't think we really knew what to expect from the freshmen coming into the season," Landwehr said. "It was kind of a surprise. She's been doing great. She definitely opens us up and gives us more options on offense, which is nice, especially for me [as a setter]. She moves well back there, which means I can run across the court and send it back to her. Since she's left-handed, she can get her feet around the ball and get a better shot."
Even with her success thus far, there are areas for improvement. Bigbee sees the importance of improving her play from the defensive side of the ball and playing in the front row. By coupling a stronger defense with her continually improving attack, Bigbee believes she will be able to elevate her game to an even higher level.
"Defense is always very important," she said. "I didn't play much defense in high school, so there's a lot of room for improvement there. With hitting, I'm starting to see a bigger block with two people on me at all times, so I need to work on being able to hit the high hands."
Johnson-Lynch has always placed a great value on a player's ability to play defense. However, she sees untapped talent in Bigbee's attack.
"She needs to get used to hitting against a good solid block," Johnson-Lynch said. "She has to get more shots and more angles. She's got a couple shots that she is comfortable with, and we need her to have three or four shots that she's comfortable with."
Bigbee is in the hunt for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors, and her production will have to continue against some of the nation's stiffest competition, as the Cyclones are in the meat of their league schedule. Iowa State will play six of its last 12 games against RPI top-15 teams. The remaining slate includes matches against No. 9 Kansas State and No. 14 Kansas, as well as two matches against both No. 8 Texas and No. 17 Oklahoma.