With two of Iowa State’s top scorers gone from last season, the Cyclones will debut a young team and will see the return of two players who suffered from season-ending injuries last year.
Along with the new corps of players, Iowa State will have incredible depth across the court including at middle blocker — a position which suffered from extensive injuries last season.
Cyclones youth shows promise
With seven freshmen and only one senior, the majority of Iowa State’s 16-player roster are underclassmen.
Despite all the new faces, coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said new players are bonding well with the team and have already avoided a freshman learning curve.
“Sometimes you bring in freshmen and you’re like ‘Yeah — you’re not even close’,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We’ll have people on the other court for awhile.”
All seven players have been in the mix during practice and some of the players have started to establish themselves as viable options in the Cyclones’ lineup.
The freshmen played the best team in their careers — and perhaps the best team they will ever face — in one of their first games of offseason when the Cyclones faced off against the Argentinian national team.
“Welcome to college volleyball or international volleyball — you just got on campus, now you're going to play the tenth-ranked team in the world,” Johnson-Lynch said.
Johnson-Lynch said they have seen tremendous growth in the freshman and can even see day-to-day improvements as the new players acclimate themselves with the team's offensive and defensive systems.
Outside of the freshmen, Iowa State returns two sophomores who saw significant playing time as true freshmen last year.
Eleanor Holthaus, a right-side hitter, appeared in 113 sets and averaged 2.37 kills a set. Her .270 hitting percentage as a freshman was the second-best percentage on the team last season and the fourth-best percentage in Iowa State history.
Moving into her second season in the cardinal and gold, Johnson-Lynch said Holthaus is going to take an expanded role on the Cyclone attack. After only playing the front three positions as a freshman, Holthaus is now being asked to improve as a passer and also be able to hit from the left side.
In the back row, Taylor Baranski returns as a defensive specialist after appearing in 90 sets as a freshman and averaging 1.8 digs a set.
Baranski has established herself as a key component on the court and is a player who can bring up the team's energy.
“She is kind of the energizer kid,” Johnson-Lynch said. “She comes in and everyone gets excited.”
Two players return from season-ending injuries last season
Along with the seven freshmen, Iowa State returns two players who missed the majority of the season last year.
Both Avery Rhodes and Brooke Andersen had their seasons cut short, with Rhodes experiencing a hip injury and Andersen with a back injury.
Andersen played in 51 sets and registered 36 kills as a freshman before missing the final three months of the season. As a high schooler, Andersen was an AVCA Second Team All-American.
Looking improved on the attack, Johnson-Lynch said Andersen is hitting the ball higher due to improvement with her timing — allowing her to hit the ball at the top of her leap.
Rhodes, a redshirt sophomore, was a member of the Big 12 All-Freshman Team in 2017 and in 2018, she only appeared in 30 sets. In her limited action, she averaged 1.97 kills a set.
Middle blocker depth a far cry from last season
Iowa State will have depth at middle blocker this coming season — a position the Cyclones struggled with last season. Early in the season, Rhodes and the since-departed Meegan Hart experienced season-ending injuries, which prompted a position switch for Candelaria Herrera from outside hitter to middle blocker.
Herrera has since developed into a player Johnson-Lynch said could be one of the best blockers in the nation next year.
Over the summer Herrera was a starter and captured a bronze medal with the Argentinian national team.
Johnson-Lynch said Herrera has come back "a little different" after her experience with the national team.
Outside of Rhodes and Herrera, there is also freshman Kenzie Mantz, who adds depth at an already young, albeit experienced, middle blocker corps. Mantz was an Under Armour Honorable Mention All-American in high school and Johnson-Lynch said she has already been able to show off a strong arm hitting the ball.