For the second time this season, Iowa State made a change at the libero position against Northern Iowa with freshman Michal Schuler, who had a game high 24 digs, starting.
Schuler made the most of her chance in the Cyclones’ off-colored jersey by making an impact in a recently stagnant Cyclone attack helping guide the Cyclones to a 3-1 win (25-18, 25-19, 24-26, 25-21) on Tuesday.
Prior to Schuler’s start at libero, coach Christy Johnson-Lynch started junior Izzy Enna for the first three games before having Jaiden Centeno, who is a freshman, debut against No. 6 Penn State last Friday and then starting again against Louisiana State on Sunday.
“I hate revolving people in spots I don’t think it’s fun for anybody, so it’s been hard for our players and we’ve played so many matches lately so it’s almost been a day-to-day gametime decision constantly,” Johnson-Lynch said.
During their starting spans, Enna averaged 14.7 digs and 3.7 assists while Centeno averaged 11.5 digs and 3.5 assists a game.
Before Centeno made her first start, she had only appeared in two sets unlike Schuler, who is the only freshman aside from outside hitter Annie Hatch to appear in every set for the Cyclones.
Despite all of those appearances, Schuler has been training as a hitter all season and had never played libero before Tuesday.
Earlier this season, Schuler was initially utilized as an ace server, since she possesses a strong powerful serve with plenty of movement, and also as a defensive specialist in the back row.
Over time, Schuler saw her time on the court increase and Sunday against LSU, Schuler registered 11 digs, which matched her season high. Schuler was involved in the attack as well. She had five kills, but she hit .071.
Against Northern Iowa, Schuler‘s biggest weakness was consistency with her serve and she registered two quick serving errors early in the first set. Both passes were too strong and landed just past the Panthers back line.
“It’s kind of all in my toss,” Schuler said. “Because sometimes if I don’t get my toss high enough then it normally tends to go out, so I just have to get my toss high enough and just lead myself and I’ll be able to connect with it very well.”
Iowa State then elected to have another freshman, Kate Shannon serve for Schuler beginning in the second set.
Shannon doesn’t have the same power as Schuler when serving, but she was able to deliver tough and precise serves to put pressure on the defense. Shannon finished with three service aces and three errors, but Schuler found herself serving again in the fourth set and was able to keep her serve attempts in bounds for three serves before she hit another long ball out of bounds.
“Tonight [her serve] wasn’t as effective, but if she gets going on it she can run five or six points against good teams,” Johnson-Lynch said.
Schuler had some other blemishes in the match including some poor passes that were either too low or failed to hit their mark, but she was often times saved by good plays by her teammates.
For instance, Schuler had an overpass, which gave the perfect opportunity for a kill, but Eleanor Holthaus was able to recover and make a block to give Iowa State the point.
Outside of those few mistakes passing, Schuler thrived making passes and plays on the ball.
In the first set, Schuler was able to keep the ball in play after it had been deflected by a Cyclone blocker about 15 to 20 feet behind the Cyclones back line. After Iowa State was able to get the ball back onto the Panther's half of the court, Schuler was able to quickly get back into the back row and make a dig and good pass off of a strong hit by UNI so the Cyclones could win the point.
“She’ll make plays you just can’t even believe,” Johnson-Lynch said. “She went and touched a ball and got it up that 99% of volleyball players can’t get to.”
It were these types of passes, which allowed the Cyclone attack to look invigorated and more in sync than the past weekend against Penn State and LSU.
Against those two teams this past weekend, Iowa State combined to hit .125 and struggled to find any sort of consistent rhythm during those matches.
Both the team and Johnson-Lynch emphasized the importance of improving the first pass to the setter, Mauck is able to stay close to the net and have options on the attack.
When the team is able to stay in system like this, Iowa State can find a rhythm and get the Cyclones’ hitters easier chances against the block.
Countless times, Schuler was able to get perfect passes to Mauck, which allowed Mauck to read the Panthers’ block and find the best attacking option for the Cyclones.
Despite only having two assists Schuler was accountable for about five or six hockey assists each set.
“Our passing is always one of our strong suits -- passing and defense -- I think we did that very well tonight,” Holthaus said.
As a result of solid passing from Schuler and the team as a whole, the team finished with a hitting percentage of .271.
With a clicking offensive attack, Holthaus said the team was able to stay aggressive and avoid becoming discouraged by blocks from UNI.
With an already improving offensive attack and a solid from a first-time libero in Schuler, Johnson-Lynch said she hopes one of Schuler, Enna and Centeno separates themselves, but until then the coaching staff will continue making game-time decisions on which player will wear the Cyclones’ off-colored jersey come match time.