True freshmen provide depth as Iowa State volleyball enters Big 12 play

Cyclones beat Oklahoma in 4 sets Saturday

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AMES — Iowa State’s Avery Rhodes stayed after volleyball practice on Thursday to get more reps from her middle blocker position.

She and two assistant coaches were the only ones left on the floor of Hilton Coliseum. Every time the true freshman hit the ball, the sound reverberated through the empty arena.

She fired the first three long, but after some instruction, she peppered the ball into the wood floor, hitting her spots with power and precision.

The No. 18 Cyclones (10-1, 1-0 Big 12) began Big 12 play with a 3-1 (29-31, 25-15, 25-23, 25-22) win over Oklahoma on Saturday. ISU is a veteran team, having only graduated three contributors from last season.

Even though the veterans will carry the team, three freshmen have found their way into the lineup.

The Cyclones are going to need the added depth the freshmen provide as they enter the gauntlet of the Big 12 schedule.

The veterans are mentoring the youngsters.

“... Talent’s helpful but it’s not always the key thing, that’s leadership,” ISU Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. “Having players that have done this a long time, who’ve been starters for a few years, that means a lot. People are willing to step up and be a good teammate and be selfless. All that stuff helps us come together and get better.”

Iowa State has a host of players willing to step into a leadership role.

Monique Harris is mentoring fellow setter Piper Mauck, libero Hali Hillegas is working with Izzy Enna and Grace Lazard and Alexis Conaway are helping Rhodes at the middle blocker spot.

“A lot of the freshmen are playing, so I think that’s a huge role for everyone in the upper class to take them under their wing and guide them,” Hillegas said.

And the freshmen appreciate the help, too. Mauck enrolled early at Iowa State so she could get a jump-start to her college career, much like Harris, who did the same thing.

“She’s been awesome, she’s been a huge mentor to me,” Mauck said. “She was kind of in the same boat and understands what it was like. She’s a really great setter to look up to as a freshman, senior kind of duo. She obviously has much more experience and just great person to kind of gauge where you’re at.”

Rhodes has often been seen talking with Conaway or Lazard after a drill or scrimmage. The freshman picks their brains about what she can do better, whether it’s turning her hands in slightly on the block or hitting the ball better on her swing.

“That’s how programs become great,” Johnson Lynch said. “You have the older players set the example and serve as mentors to the younger players. And that’s exactly what those guys do.”

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