Iowa State lost its only match last week, but the loss proved to be a defining moment for the Cyclones this season.
The Cyclones now feel they can compete with the conference's best as their offense held up against one of the best teams in the country in No. 6 Texas as well as Iowa State’s backup players playing at a high level.
Ready for Big 12 players
“I think that we all learned that we can stay up with the top dogs, work really hard, just pick up every ball and just be super scrappy and work just as hard or out work them,” said senior outside hitter Josie Herbst.
Iowa State had only one match last week when the Cyclones played No. 6 Texas on Wednesday.
The Longhorns only lost one Big 12 match last season and have the most efficient offense in the conference, but the Cyclones were able to hang with the Longhorns before eventually losing the match 3-1.
“Our team was always hyped up and ready to go,” sophomore setter Jenna Brandt said. “It wasn’t like anybody was afraid of the 'big Texas team,' it was just like ‘let’s go after it, what do we have to lose.’”
Last season, Iowa State wasn’t able to take a single set from the Longhorns, even with an upperclassmen heavy lineup. Iowa State only has three upperclassmen playing significant games this season, but the Cyclones’ younger players have shown they aren’t overwhelmed playing the best in the country.
Brandt, a sophomore, said the team focused on controlling the game on its end and in the second set — which the Cyclones won 25-18 — everything came together, including a .444 set hitting percentage.
Cyclones’ offensive efficiency here to stay
Against Texas the team hit .268, which is higher than the Cyclones' season average.
“Our offense seems to be clicking,” coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. ”I think we kind of already knew that, but to hit so well against Texas is pretty huge.”
The Cyclones had an inconsistent attack early in the season, but have been steadily improving match to match and currently rank as one of the best offenses in the Big 12.
The Cyclones lead the conference in kills per set with an average of 14.15 and rank second in hitting percentage with .253. Texas ranks first with a hitting percentage of .310.
The Cyclones have several hitting options with Herbst, Candelaria Herrera, Avery Rhodes, Eleanor Holthaus and Annie Hatch. In addition, the Cyclones’ setters Piper Mauck and now Jenna Brandt have been able to distribute the ball effectively to the teams’ hitters.
Brandt and Enna up to the challenge in relief of injured players
Mauck, who has been Iowa State’s starter at setter, and Michal Schuler — who has been the starting libero — both missed the Texas game due to concussions after colliding into each other at practice.
In their place, Johnson-Lynch started Izzy Enna at libero and Brandt at setter.
Enna was the starting libero at the beginning of the season, but lost her libero jersey to Jaiden Centeno, who then lost her position to Schuler. Brandt has been the only other setter on the roster and Mauck’s backup the last two seasons.
Enna had a match high of 13 digs, which led all players, and Brandt registered 41 assists and seven digs.
Johnson-Lynch said both players played well against Texas and credited Brandt with helping orchestrate their efficient offensive night.
“That is a pretty great gift to have,” Johnson-Lynch said. “You know, two starters out and have people playing their position play so well.”
Looking toward Iowa State’s next game against Kansas on Wednesday, Johnson-Lynch said both Mauck and Schuler are questionable to play, but she did say both players have been participating in a limited capacity on the court.
Whether or not Mauck plays, Brandt said she has to be ready to play no matter the situation, but she said there is an adjustment going from the bench to on the court.
“Being the second setter is hard to adjust and be like ‘Oh, I’m the leader now’ there and take control over that,” Brandt said.
With Mauck or Brandt in as setter, Iowa State is still primed to have a solid offensive night to the level of play both players can provide.