AMES — The Iowa State volleyball team missed out on the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 2005, Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch’s first year as coach.
The Cyclones were plagued with injuries to the point where 5-foot-9 setter Jenna Brandt had to play middle blocker against Baylor.
Still, the Cyclones finished third in the Big 12 and won the NIVC.
“There’s the part of you that’s really frustrated you didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, but yet you saw some flashes of some pretty great people doing high-character things,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Our players learned that you can’t take it for granted that you’re going to make the tournament and make a little run.
“Being great doesn’t just happen.”
This offseason, Iowa State was able to take a trip to South America to play against various teams and even some national teams, like the Argentina national team, which included Candelaria (Cande) Herrera, Iowa State’s junior middle blocker.
“Cande had such a terrific summer,” Johnson-Lynch said. “She left right after finals and joined her national team. When she left, we didn’t know how she’d do — she could’ve been the eighth middle blocker on that roster, or she could’ve made the starting lineup.”
Herrera said she didn’t expect herself to make the main team. She thought she’d be on the B-team.
Herrera ended up starting for an Argentina team that was ranked 10th in the world.
“The plan was just for her to go down there and get her feet wet.” Johnson-Lynch said. “Our thought process was, ‘She’s going to be a junior in college competing against 25-year-old women.’ She had a very difficult summer.
“While we’re all down there on vacation, she was down there training. She grinded it out and earned a starting spot on their national team — a really good national team. She played in the Pan American Games in Peru. She played all summer and at a very high level.”
Argentina and Herrera earned a bronze medal at the Pan-Am Games.
In a five-set match against the U.S. in the group stage, Herrera led all players with five blocks in a five-set Argentina victory. She also had five kills that match.
“Ever since I started playing volleyball, blocking has always been my thing,” Herrera said. “It’s something I’ve always done well. I don’t know why. I work on it every day. Blocking is just my thing.”
Johnson-Lynch has seen how good Herrera’s block is. She was second on the team last year with 111 blocks.
“Cande has the potential to be one of the best blockers in the nation,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Her block is special.”
What makes her block so good?
“She’s very balanced,” Johnson-Lynch said. “A lot of middles, when the setter begins their set, they start leaning and then the setter goes the other way, so you have no chance to block. Cande, if you watch her, she’ll stay put and wait until the setter sets the ball, and then she’s fast enough to get out there. She’s so good at staying balanced and reading that she can get to any ball that comes out of the setter’s hands. She’s also relentless. Great blockers have to never quit.”
On top of her ideal mental makeup, Herrera has the physical tools to dominate.
“She’s just physical,” Johnson-Lynch said. “She’s fast and she jumps well. If you were to snap of picture of her blocking, you’d see her armpits over the net, where as some of our other blockers might be mid-arm. That means the hitter on the other side has no room to hit and has no angles.
“All of those things put together make her a great blocker.”
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