In her first two seasons at Iowa State, junior outside hitter Brooke Andersen hit 80 kills in 36 matches played. She wasn’t one of the go-to attackers for the team by any means.
Fast forward to this season, and through six matches, it's a whole different story for Andersen.
Andersen is second on the team in points scored with 100.5 (she scored 100 in her first two years combined) and second on the team in kills with 87.
She trails only junior right-side player Eleanor Holthaus in points and kills with 106.5 points and 94 kills.
Throughout her career, Andersen has dealt with setbacks, mainly injuries setting her back in each year as a Cyclone.
“My freshman year, I was playing [in matches] and then I fractured my back,” Andersen said. “Sophomore year, I was coming back and doing alright, then I broke my hand.”
Her most recent injury was a broken bone in her right hand around her ring finger that she suffered in the spring.
“On March 3, We were in spring practice and I dove for a ball," Andersen said. "Piper [Mauck] ran and kind of kicked my finger and broke a bone.”
Andersen said she had surgery to fix it, and she was in a splint for eight weeks.
Right after she broke a bone in her hand, COVID-19 caused spring sports, as well as spring practices for fall sports, to be canceled, and the majority of student-athletes went home.
Andersen was one of those players and returned home to Waukesha, Wisconsin.
While at home, she began rehabbing for the broken bone in her right hand.
“I was at home rehabbing, squeezing putty, stretching my hand, but I still really couldn’t use it for months,” Andersen said.
Andersen said recovering from her injury, especially during quarantine, was a learning experience.
While not playing volleyball in the spring, Andersen said she began to put things in perspective.
“I get to play now, but when I’m hurt and out recovering, I’m not able to play volleyball, so I think having that time during quarantine to kind of do that with my family helped me, too, mentally and physically,” Andersen said. “It was good for me to put it in perspective and give it all I got when I can play because you never know what can take you out.”
Andersen said she returned to Ames in June. Before they could lift weights, the team was sent papers detailing certain workout circuits they could do. Andersen worked with dumbbells and bodyweight regiments along with running for cardio.
After the home-workout period had passed, the team was able to get back into the weight room and do workouts with their strength and conditioning coach.
Since she hadn’t hit a ball in months, Andersen was still rehabbing her hand injury during the summer.
Iowa State Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said Andersen has fought through a lot of adversity to get to where she is this season, especially comparing to where she started after a rough first two years.
“She had a bit of a rough start,” Johnson-Lynch said. “It seemed like every time she got some momentum, she’d be out again for some sort of injury.”
Throughout the summer and throughout this season, Johnson-Lynch has said on multiple occasions that Andersen is a different player from where she has been in the past. Even before the hand injury and the postponements with COVID-19, Andersen impressed her.
She said she could tell Andersen had improved while being away from the team.
“She picked up where she left off, which was in very good shape; she was determined and had a great attitude,” Johnson-Lynch said. “She did a good job over the break and was ready to go when we came back for practice in August.”
After hitting a career-high 16 kills in a 3-1 win against Texas Tech, Johnson-Lynch has found the biggest difference in Andersen as a player from last season to this season is her aggressiveness along with better attack choices.
Johnson-Lynch said Andersen had done a much better job of managing her swing. Outside hitters don't always get the perfect set they want, so as Andersen has progressed in managing her swing and knowing when to attack, Johnson-Lynch has watched her whole game improve as a result.
When it's the perfect spot for her, Andersen knows when to become aggressive but also can dial it back and allow for another opportunity to come her way.
And now, with Andersen back to being healthy and having a stretch of time where she can prove herself on the court, Johnson Lynch said her confidence has returned.
“I really think that now that she’s healthy for a long stretch of time, knock on wood, she’s finally found her confidence, her groove and her consistency,” Johnson-Lynch said.
Throughout the time she’s missed because of the three injuries she’s suffered, one word has become important to Andersen: perspective.
“I think perspective is such a big word to me because you have to give it your all when you're in, and when you’re not, you have to visualize and watch your teammates playing and think how you can get better by seeing what they’re doing,” Andersen said.
Holthaus, Iowa State's other leading offensive producer, said Andersen has played quite well this season and dominated at basically every level.
“Brooke has been doing amazing this season,” Holthaus said. “She is dominating this season offensively, defensively and serving.”
Andersen and Holthaus have combined to score 207 of Iowa State’s 476 points this season, as well as hitting 181 of its 382 kills. Having Andersen’s offense available for the first time in a while not only takes the pressure off of Holthaus but the team's attackers as well.
Andersen has seen the ball set her way more than any other Cyclone this season as she has the most attack attempts on the team with 274. And the increased looks have paid off in most matches this year, as Andersen has hit double digit kills in five of the eight matches played this season.
With the injuries she's faced heading into this year, Andersen had never had a match in which she hit at least ten kills coming into this season.
Andersen set a career-high with 16 kills Oct. 2 against the Texas Tech Lady Raiders in a 3-1 win for Iowa State. Her second-highest kill total came against the Kansas State Wildcats in the season-opener Sept. 25 in a 3-2 win for Iowa State when she had 13 kills.
As the Cyclones near the midpoint of the season, Andersen appears to be one of the team's more important pieces going forward.
“She’s kind of like a glue player that every team needs,” Johnson-Lynch said. “She plays all the way around, much like Eleanor."
Johnson-Lynch said Andersen and Holthaus have similar roles.
“They’re passing in just about every rotation, they’re playing defense, they’re serving and then they need to get kills for us in the front row,” Johnson-Lynch said. “They’re busy; they’re doing a lot for us, and they kind of hold us together because they are out there for so long."
Johnson-Lynch said the ability to impact the game in so many ways like Andersen has done is a lost art in volleyball. But so far this season, Andersen has not only met but exceeded Johnson Lynch's expectations in her front- and back-row play.
With Andersen finding her groove this season and finally being able to become an offensive producer, her perspective has not only changed with volleyball but where she is at in life outside of the sport.
“From my freshman year to now, volleyball was everything to me my freshman year, but with being hurt, I was trying to gain perspective on life itself,” Andersen said. “Now, I think I have a greater appreciation for the game, my teammates and being able to go out and play with my best friends and having fun in college.”