Iowa State dropped two games during the weekend to Penn State and Louisiana State, but two freshmen — Jaiden Centeno and Michal Schuler — have emerged as vital parts of the Cyclone rotation.
Centeno and Schuler both had their best games of the season against LSU — a game Iowa State lost 3-2. The loss gives Iowa State a 2-3 record for the season.
With seven freshmen on the roster and only one senior, it was only a matter of time before more freshmen established themselves in the rotation with freshman outside hitter Annie Hatch, who has been starting for the Cyclones since the teams first game against Central Florida.
After only appearing in two sets, Centeno made her first start against No. 6 Penn State on Friday, which pushed junior Izzy Enna from libero to defensive specialist duties.
After the game against Penn State, coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said the coaching staff will continue to evaluate the libero rotation — meaning Enna could take back her starting position at libero from Centeno.
In her first start Centeno had seven digs, but she saw a vast improvement in her second game playing libero against LSU, where she registered 16 digs.
While Centeno saw herself quickly move from defensive specialist playing sparingly to the Cyclones’ libero, Schuler has also seen her time on the court increase substantially.
Johnson-Lynch attributed their increase in play to being able to execute from the back row.
“Especially in the back row, a lot of it is statistic based,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Do you pass the ball well, do you serve tough, can you play good defense and they are both doing a nice job at that.”
Improving the teams passing has been an emphasis with the Iowa State coaching staff early this season. When setter Piper Mauck isn’t chasing balls across the court off of bad passes, she is able to stay in the system and provide better passes for Iowa State’s hitters.
When the team is able to pass well and stay in system, Schuler said Iowa State’s hitters are nearly unstoppable.
Aside from good passing both players — especially Schuler — provide serves which put pressure on the receiving team.
“One thing I can contribute to the team is my serve and just continuing to keep that consistent,” Schuler said.
Schuler has a powerful serve, but like the other freshmen she has had bouts of inconsistency. She has had one service error against Penn State and four against LSU.
As a young team, Centeno said the Cyclones need to work on staying calm in high pressure situations.
“It was similar to the other night,” Johnson-Lynch said. “There were some stretches where we looked pretty good, there were a lot of stretches where just not a lot of good volleyball [was] happening.”
Johnson-Lynch said she was frustrated with the teams competitiveness during the game the team had points in the game where the team looked like they quit and hung their heads when the game wasn’t going in the Cyclones’ favor.
Moving forward, Centono said she needs to step up as a leader and continue to make sure she is able to keep the teams energy up.
“Being a libero, you have to have a ton of leadership and a lot of talk, so I can continue to work on that,” Centeno said.
No small task for a freshman with only eight sets of libero under her belt.