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Experienced Iowa State volleyball team aims high

Cyclones load with juniors, seniors

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AMES — The evolution of Iowa State volleyball couldn’t be sped up.

Freshmen needed to naturally become sophomores and the sophomores had to become juniors. But that has put the Cyclones in this favorable position.

Eight of the 15 players on the ISU roster are juniors and seniors who will strive to keep the streak of 10-straight NCAA tournament appearances intact.

Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch thinks the pieces could come together to make it out of the second round for the first time since 2012.

“We want to make a deeper run,” Johnson-Lynch said. “So having players that are on a mission and kind of committed to that ... (that) at least (will) get us going in the right direction.”

That number of juniors and seniors also is telling in the experience Iowa State brings back.

Senior Morgan Kuhrt and junior Alexis Conaway return as all-Big 12 players who were preseason first-team selections this fall. Returners in setters Monique Harris and Suzanne Horner, outside hitters Ciara Capezio and Jess Schaben and middle blockers Samara West and Grace Lazard give Iowa State options.

“As a fifth-year senior I want my last season to be my best one yet,” Kuhrt said. “I definitely have big goals and we have a lot of potential as a team to reach those.”

Evansville transfer and outside hitter Genesis Miranda and freshman hitter Anna Kiel have infused themselves with the veterans and become legitimate options for playing time during the first week of practice, upwardly spiking the level of competition in workouts.

“Especially in practice being able to run every drill competitively and fight for every position, it’s huge,” Conaway said. “Last week was a great week of practice and I think everyone got better and will just continue to get better throughout the season.”

Johnson-Lynch hasn’t set a definitive scheme — playing a 6-2 look versus 5-1 — much less a lineup, but didn’t rule out the idea of letting some battles work themselves out naturally in the first couple matches.

Perhaps the biggest task for Iowa State is finding its new libero. The Cyclones enjoyed former Cedar Rapids Kennedy prep Kristen Hahn as its defensive specialist and most recently Caitlin Nolan, who was a two-time Big 12 Libero of the Year and a second-team All-American as a senior.

The main competition for the libero spot falls between junior Branen Berta and sophomore Abby Phillips, a former Marion prep. Johnson-Lynch said Phillips asserted herself last spring, but has been locked pretty closely with Berta through the first week of fall camp.

“I’ve always seen libero as primarily a passing position so every day we’re collecting numbers so we can kind of figure out who is our best passer,” Johnson-Lynch said. “That’s somewhat just a statistic and some of it is just objective.

“Then there’s other things in play: how tough of a server are they? What’s their demeanor? There’s no statistic to tell us what kind of demeanor they have and how they handle adversity. That’s something we will observe and make a judgment on as well.”

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