A pair of experienced Cyclones are returning from injury for the Iowa State volleyball team. Joining them will be the always consistent Jess Schaben for the late season stretch.
Schaben "on a mission"
With only three guaranteed games left, senior outside hitter Schaben has taken things up a notch.
Schaben had a huge week last week in terms of kills, tallying a total of 48 in games against Baylor and West Virginia. This included 26 kills against the Bears in Waco, Texas, which tied a career-high.
These performances aren't a surprise to anyone on the team, as Schaben has long been someone the team relies on to step up in critical situations. Still, with the Cyclones being especially short-handed as of late, the extra contributions they've gotten from Schaben have been key to the team remaining competitive.
"I think she's been on a mission," said coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. "When we were kind of short-handed there, she made the decision she was going to do whatever it took to help the team."
For Schaben, that meant scoring even with half of the other team focused solely on her.
"At a certain point they were triple blocking her," Johnson-Lynch said. "Everyone knows where the ball is going and she's still finding a way to get kills."
Schaben said the uptick in play comes not only from the team relying on her more heavily, but it also directly coincides with the fact there are three games remaining on Iowa State's schedule.
At 13-13, a trip to the NCAA tournament is currently in doubt, so Schaben is leaving it all out on the line, in case these final games are it.
"I think with all the stuff that's been going on and the adversity we've faced and with how many games we have left, I feel like that's been my goal is to just play as hard as I can for my teammates," Schaben said. "Knowing that I have very little to play left in a Cyclone jersey, I want to give it the best I can."
The return of Grace Lazard
Fortunately for Schaben and the Cyclones, they got a key member of the team back Saturday in senior middle blocker Grace Lazard, which should help ease some of the pressure.
Lazard was suspended for games against TCU and Baylor for undisclosed reasons, leaving an already depth-challenged Iowa State team even thinner. This was especially true at Lazard's position of middle blocker, as her suspension left Candelaria Herrera as the team's only middle blocker.
To fill that hole, Johnson-Lynch moved starting right-side hitter Eleanor Holthaus and reserve setter Jenna Brandt to the middle to act as temporary fixes. Though Iowa State went 0-2 in those matches, Johnson-Lynch was pleased with the performances of the two.
"They were awesome," Johnson-Lynch said. "They did everything they could, even though they were very uncomfortable. That's all you can ask."
Luckily for the Cyclones, Lazard returned to action against West Virginia and helped lead the team to a 3-1 match win. Lazard turned in 14 kills and four block assists in that match, and said Monday that she was just happy for the opportunity to return.
"It felt good to be back," Lazard said. "Just like the opportunity to get back into things and being there for my teammates again."
Hannah Bailey's return
Senior right-side hitter Hannah Bailey has faced a lot of adversity in her career at Iowa State, and it seemed as if that adversity would cut her career short.
Bailey has gone through a multitude of injuries since arriving on campus as a top recruit three years ago. Despite this, she appeared to be healthy going into her senior year, and was expected to be a key contributor the Cyclones, even if it meant she wasn't starting.
However, Bailey suffered a finger injury early in the season that required surgery, casting doubt on whether or not she'd ever play again for the Cyclones. Even with the injury keeping her from contributing on the court, Bailey still apparently stepped up as a leader off of it, as Johnson-Lynch called Bailey the "mom" of the team for how much does behind the scenes.
With only five games left in the season, though, Bailey defied expectations and came back from her injury quicker than anticipated, giving her one last chance to suit up for the Cyclones.
"I'm just so grateful," Bailey said. "Honestly I thought I was done, just because of my rehab. I didn't know when I was going to be cleared. There was some uncertainty there, so when I got cleared, I was just happy to have another chance."
For Johnson-Lynch, seeing Bailey get that extra chance has been a heartwarming experience, especially given everything that Bailey's gone through in her career at Iowa State.
"It's been really cool to have her back," Johnson-Lynch said. "She's such a positive person and a hard worker. I know how much this means to her, being able to play her senior year, and also for the team, you can tell they're happy to have her out there and give her this opportunity."