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Last updated: Mon. Nov. 26, 2012 - 02:22 am EDT

IPFW volleyball gets unfamiliar Iowa State for NCAA Tournament opening round

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Within seconds after hearing on the nationally televised NCAA Tournament selection show it would play Iowa State in the opening round, players on IPFW women's volleyball team had their smartphones out and were searching online.

The biggest questions for the players that moment Sunday afternoon during their watch party at the college's student center: how far was Iowa State from Fort Wayne and just how good were the Cyclones.

It's almost impossible to blame the players for not knowing that information off the top of their heads.

For the first time in its 35-year program history, IPFW will make the nine-hour trip to Ames, Iowa, to play Iowa State in its NCAA Tournament first round match at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

"I know nothing about them, but I'm excited. I was hoping it would be a little closer for our family sake," setter Megan Steenhuysen. "I'm sure they know nothing about us either."

The Mastodons (25-6, 13-3 Summit League) are making their first appearance in the 64-team NCAA Tournament since 2009. IPFW earned the Summit League's automatic bid to the national tournament after sweeping in-state rival IUPUI in the conference tournament championship match earlier this month.

Iowa State, which was ranked No. 18 in the latest national coaches poll, received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and earned one of the top 16 seeds in the tournament after ending the regular season in second place in the Big 12. As one of the top 16 seeds, the Cyclones (20-7, 13-3 Big 12) will host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Kelley Hartley Hutton said she hoped the Mastodons' good RPI would have prevented them from playing a top 16 seeded team in the first round. The Mastodons were ranked No. 57 in the final regular season RPI.

"Certainly playing on their home floor is going to be an added challenge," Hutton said. "But we're going to Iowa State and excited to be in the NCAA Tournament and hopeful that we can win a first-round match."

IPFW since moving up to Division I has never advanced beyond the first round of the NCAA Tournament -- losing in three games to Illinois in its only other tournament appearance three years ago.

With four senior starters who were on the Mastodons' 2009 NCAA Tournament team, Hutton said that tournament experience will be invaluable in preparation for this upcoming match.

"We were just so happy to be there [in 2009] and to have made it," the coach said. "Now with this team we're talking about what is it going to take to win a NCAA match. That's what we prepared for last week and this week. We are prepared to win."

Hutton and Steenhuysen both said IPFW has the potential to upset nationally ranked Iowa State in its first-round match. In addition, Steenhuysen -- the Summit League Setter of the Year and First-Team All-League selection -- said the team has embraced its small school, underdog role entering the tournament.

"How exciting would it be to be this small school no one has heard of and go out there and beat them," Steenhuysen said.

vlopes@news-sentinel.com


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