It was clear when it was announced the IPFW women's volleyball team would play No. 18 Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament's opening round that the Cyclones initially knew little – if anything – about the Mastodons.
The Iowa State volleyball Twitter account at first misspelled IPFW when tweeting who it would play in the first round of the 64-team tournament. Several Cyclone fans before the match Thursday even politely approached Mastodons coach Kelley Hartley Hutton to ask her the state where IPFW was located.
As IPFW left Iowa State's arena after its season-ending loss, though, the Mastodons gave the Cyclones good reason to remember them.
IPFW came within one game of pulling its biggest upset in program history as Iowa State rallied from a one-game deficit to win the match 25-11, 23-25, 22-25, 25-13, 15-7.
"I could not be more proud of this team," Hutton said. "We gave them everything they wanted."
After IPFW won the third game to move one game away from the program's first NCAA Tournament victory, Iowa State made only four attack errors the rest of the match – 12 fewer than in the first three games. The Cyclones also had more than a .400 attack percentage in both of the final two games.
The Cyclones finished the match out-hitting the Mastodons .329 to .140, including holding IPFW to a match-low .045 attack percentage in the fifth game. In addition, Iowa State never trailed in the decisive fifth game.
The biggest difference for IPFW's offense in the final two games, Hutton said, was playing more out-of-system and not as aggressively against Iowa State's blockers.
"We wanted to go out really aggressive," Hutton said. "In the fifth set we got timid again and started tipping again, and a good defensive team picked that up."
Iowa State coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said Iowa State's tough serving also prevented IPFW's offense from being as effective in the final two games. The Mastodons had more than a .250 attack percentage in both games they won.
"We served them off the court," she said. "They were passing poorly and getting aced."
The Cyclones -- which entered the NCAA Tournament on a 10-match winning streak and finished in second place in the Big 12 -- had seven aces in the victory.
Lynch said the biggest reason IPFW almost pulled the upset was because of the Mastodons' digging and blocking during long rallies.
"You look at the game stats and you wonder how that (match) was close. IPFW is a very, very good team, very scrappy," Lynch said. We were surprised how many times they kept the ball alive because we were expecting a kill. ... You could tell they believed they were going to win."
IPFW libero Tessa McGill had a team-high 20 digs.
The senior finished the regular season fourth in the nation with a 6.18 digs per game average. In addition, McGill ends her college career as IPFW's career digs leader with 2,304.
McGill, the Summit League Defensive Player of the Year, was one of four seniors whose college careers ended with the loss. All-conference setter Meghan Steenhuysen and all-conference middle attacker Jessie Manwaring also closed out their IPFW careers, as did Haley Emenhiser.
This senior class finishes as the program's winningest class since the Mastodons transitioned to NCAA Division I. In a four-year period it helped IPFW win two Summit League championships for berths in the NCAA Tournament
"Every year you know that they are going to graduate, but that doesn't make it easy. They've meant so much to our volleyball program,” Hutton said. “I'm certainly going to miss them."