Iowa State suffered two losses over the weekend against Penn State and LSU; the Cyclones’ most glaring weakness was the young team's inconsistency.
The attack struggled mightily in both losses. Eleanor Holthaus, who has shown she is settling into her new role, had two polar opposite performances.
Iowa State’s offensive struggles are those of a young team
After steadily improving their hitting percentage through the first three games of the season, Iowa State had its two worst attacking performances during this past weekend.
Against LSU on Sunday, the team hit .124 and against Penn State on Friday the team hit .126.
Iowa State’s shortcomings on the attack can be reflected in the play of Annie Hatch so far this season. The Cyclones are a young team and Hatch, a freshman, has reflected the team's struggles as a whole.
Hatch has struggled with attacking errors and also hitting a variety of shots at the defense and with shot placement.
Hatch hit .118 against LSU and -.074 against Penn State and ranks second on the team behind Eleanor Holthaus for most attack attempts with 154 attempts. Holthaus, a sophomore, only has three more attempts.
With Iowa State’s attack being spearheaded by young players, the coaching staff is working with the hitters on their “tool box” or the different shots an attacker can utilize.
When players are working on different shots, it doesn’t often yield efficient shooting percentages, which is evident in Iowa State’s individual hitting percentages this season.
Only setter Piper Mauck has a hitting percentage above .300 this season and her attack attempts only come from around one dump attempt a set — meaning the Cyclones can’t base their attack off of Mauck, but part of the solution for Iowa State involves Mauck.
Iowa State gets its best looks on the attack when the Cyclones — especially in the back row — are able to deliver a good pass to Mauck off of a serve or opponent kill attempt.
Iowa State has struggled delivering these first passes to Mauck, which forces her off of the net and out of the teams offensive system — effectively eliminating two or more options on the attack for Mauck — and allowing the team on defense to effortlessly follow the pass and set up a block.
If Iowa State wants to give its young hitters a better chance, it all starts with the first pass.
Holthaus settling into new role
Through five games, Holthaus established herself as a do-it-all player for the Cyclones — albeit with some early season hiccups.
In her second season, the coaching staff has expanded Holthaus’ role from that of strictly a front row player, to being able to play all across the court.
Holthaus had a statistically bad game against Penn State, but followed that performance with a double-double against LSU, which highlights her utility on the court.
She had six kills and six attacking errors for a hitting percentage of zero — the third lowest percentage of her career — along with eight digs and one block. The following game against LSU, she had 16 kills, 17 digs and three blocks with a hitting percentage of .265, which is a solid percentage for the amount of attempts she had (49).
In the Penn State match, Holthaus looked out of sync with her six attacking errors — a majority of which were the result of missed shots rather than a result of blocks by Penn State.
Holthaus will get more comfortable as she follows the same path as Jess Schaben, who was the team's top attacking option as a senior last season.
With Holthaus playing the back row this season, she is being asked to attack from the back row — a transition Schaben also saw during her sophomore year.
With an expanded role on the attack, Holthaus is hitting .236, but on paper she is ahead of where Schaben was as a sophomore since Schaben hit .204 — a result of lots of attacking errors like Holthaus — through the first five games of the 2016 season.
Like Schaben before her, Holthaus will have great games on the attack, but there will also be games like Penn State where her developing consistency shows.