Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State volleyball back in NCAA tournament after rare miss last season

Cyclones take on No. 15 Creighton in first round Friday

Iowa State Cyclones volleyball coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. (The Gazette)
Iowa State Cyclones volleyball coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. (The Gazette)

AMES — After a one-year hiatus from the NCAA volleyball tournament, Iowa State is back.

Last season was the first time in 12 years the Cyclones didn’t make it and with their return this season, they’ve now made it 13 of the last 14 seasons.

Iowa State (17-11) plays 15th-ranked Creighton (24-5) in the first round at 4:30 p.m. in Minneapolis.

“There’s nothing like not making it one year to make it really fun the next year — especially because we didn’t know if we’d get in,” Iowa State Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. “Just about every other year I’ve been here, it’s been a for sure thing that we’d get in. This year, we knew it’d be close. It was so nerve wracking and we weren’t called until the last bracket was revealed, so then you’re even sweating it out more. But there’s nothing like missing a year to make you really appreciate how hard it is to put a good season together to get into the tournament.”

The Cyclones have an extraordinarily young team with seven freshmen, five sophomores, three juniors and just one senior. One of the juniors is Candelaria Herrera, who transferred to Iowa State last season from Florida A&M. She’s never been in the NCAA tournament either.

“I’m so excited,” said Herrera said, who’s a San Juan, Argentina, native. “When I saw Iowa State in the bracket I cried a little bit because last year we didn’t make it and I was kind of disappointed for myself because it felt bad. Now, I just feel so much happiness. We’re so excited.”

Iowa State was able to get back in the tournament thanks to its balanced attack.

The Cyclones are one of three teams in the nation to have five players with at least 200 kills. Last season, Iowa State relied on Jess Schaben’s 516 kills. Now, Eleanor Holthaus is Iowa State’s leader with 308.

Holthaus missed Iowa State’s last two matches of the season with an ankle injury, but Johnson-Lynch is hopeful she’ll be ready by Friday.

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“Last year we were Jess Schaben,” Johnson-Lynch said. “This year we’re much more balanced, even though Eleanor has taken her fair share of swings. What’s good about balance is we can depend on different people, and sometimes we don’t even know until we get to the game who that will be but that also means the opponent doesn’t know who to prepare for.

“The ability to have five good hitters out there helps us a lot, especially this year when we didn’t have the huge gun like a Jess Schaben.”

It also makes setter Piper Mauck’s life much easier.

“Last year when we relied on just Jess Schaben, compared to now where I can spread it around much more evenly, it makes a much stronger offense for us and allows us to put balls away a lot easier,” Mauck said. “If Jess had an off night last year, it was kind of over for us. But now, I feel like I have a coach telling me that we have a new hot hitter every game, so I have more opportunities to spread the ball around.”

Iow State is very familiar with Creighton. The Cyclones have played the Bluejays four times in the last four years— including earlier this season in an exhibition before the season started. Iowa State won that exhibition in five sets.

“We’ve played each other a lot — even in the spring in games that don’t count,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We know each other well. They know our style of play and they know ours. It’s a fun challenge because it’s a friendly rivalry. A lot of these players played club against each other in high school and know each other. It’s going to be fun.

“It’s hard to play them — they serve really tough, they play great defense, they have a great block. It’s hard to play a team that does those things very well.”

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