Coming off of the volleyball preseason, Iowa State’s young roster has plenty of reason to be excited entering the 2019 season after beating No. 18 Creighton in an exhibition game and showing continued growth.
The team will look to continue their hot start, which began before the season even started, when they travel to Mississippi to play the Central Florida (UCF) Knights on Friday and the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday at the Rebel Invitational in Oxford, Miss.
The teams played five consecutive sets despite the Cyclones taking the first three, which would have ended the game in a regulation match.
Redshirt sophomore Avery Rhodes' biggest takeaway from the match was the Cyclones' ability to hold their own against the Bluejays. Josie Herbst, the only senior on the roster, noted how the Cyclones didn’t let Creighton runs destroy Iowa State’s momentum — an issue which plagued Iowa State during the 2018 season — and the team continually battled for points.
Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said that as a team the Cyclone defense and block looked solid, but the team's passing needs to improve and the team needs to figure out how to find more quality looks on the attack with the hitters. Entering the regular season, Iowa State will use a large quantity of hitters to try to fill the void left by the team's top two point scorers last year — Jess Schaben and Grace Lazard, both of whom graduated.
Of those players battling for swings and also for back row positions, seven will be freshmen, creating a youthful roster with plenty of potential, but no go-to option on the attack like Schaben the previous year.
Rhodes echoed advice for the younger players, who may not always see the court due to the amount of players vying for playing time.
“They just have to know if they don’t touch the court this time, they will just have to keep working hard, just being a team player, just smiling because when you have your time it’s going to feel amazing after doing all those little things,” Rhodes said.
One would expect the team's freshmen to be leaps and bounds behind the other players, but despite occasional mistakes, the freshmen have been able to acclimate themselves quickly and have seen day-to-day growth, which has been noticed by Johnson-Lynch and experienced players like Rhodes and Herbst.
With the unique youthfulness of the team, Johnson-Lynch said she likes the current makeup of the roster, which will allow the team to continually improve throughout the season.
Johnson-Lynch said it will take a few weeks to see where each player stands on the team before developing a de facto lineup, but the tough schedule will reveal any warts or bright spots.
“Well we’ll find out right away what we are about, you know we always schedule pretty tough because that’s what we want to know. We want to know before we go into the Big 12 — what our issues are, where we are good, where we need work,” Johnson-Lynch said.
To start off that tough non-conference schedule, Iowa State will square off against UCF and Ole Miss.
Iowa State beat Ole Miss, which went 14-18 last season, in straight sets last season, but didn’t face the Knight, a team which made the NCAA Tournament and finished with a record of 27-3.
Johnson-Lynch said UCF will be a challenge as the team returns virtually every player but their libero. She also said the Golden Knights operate ‘like a machine’ and looking at their record through three, four and five sets -- the Golden Knights seem to improve as the match goes longer. They have a record of 11-2 through three sets, 11-1 through four and a perfect record of 5-0 when the match goes five sets.
If Iowa State is able to compete with UCF and beat Ole Miss, it will bode well for the growth of the team with more competitive matches — like Penn State and Louisiana State (LSU) — on the schedule before the Big 12 even starts.