Three freshmen up Cyclone volleyball ante

Kelsey Jacobs

The veteran volleyball Cyclones will have to work harder this year.

Not only to reach their goals of Big 12 and NCAA Championships, but also to keep at bay the competition of three new freshmen ranked as the No. 16 recruiting class in the country.

“We do have a pretty veteran team and a lot of returning starters, but we have a lot of young talent” said coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. “There’s competition at every position like there’s never been since I’ve been here.”

One new competitor is Tenisha Matlock, who comes to Iowa State from North Platte, Neb. She is a 6-foot-2-inch middle blocker and right side hitter who was a three-year letterwinner in high school and a first-team all-state performer as a senior.

Now, after only three weeks of practice with the Cyclones, she has already drawn the attention of older teammates.

“[Matlock] is just so athletic,”┬ásaid┬ásenior Victoria Henson. “They had her on the right side, in the middle and hitting on the outside. So for her to come in as a freshman and take on the kind of role where she’s playing three different positions, it’s crazy.”

Matlock appreciates her new teammates for their down-to-earth attitudes, and she likes the faster pace of collegiate play.

“What I love about volleyball is that I can get my aggression out on the court instead of any other way,” Matlock said.

Matlock’s height is thrown into sharp contrast when compared to her 5-foot-6-inch teammate Kristen Hahn, but what Hahn lacks in height, she makes up for in talent.

As a three-year letterwinner at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, Hahn was also named a PrepVolleyball.com high school All-American. She is a defensive specialist and libero.

Hahn came to Iowa State not only because she feels it suits her personality, but also because of the coaching staff.

“The coaches really, really know what they’re talking about,” Hahn said. “We don’t get punished for making a really bad pass, we don’t have to run, but in competition they expect things out of you. In practice you’re expected to give a certain amount of effort, verses in high school where you’re allowed to slack off a little.”

Hahn said it is different coming to Iowa State from high school because of the level of talent the Cyclones have.

“It’s kind of weird because, coming from high school, I’m used to playing on the number one side,” Hahn said. “Here we’re coming in as freshmen now, and we’re playing against people who are even better, so that’s exciting.”

Johnson-Lynch doesn’t see such a difference between the freshmen and the upperclassmen. She said that usually when freshmen come in it is easy to tell they are new, but the three freshmen are physically right up with the juniors and seniors.

“Practices have been so fun because they’re so competitive,” Johnson-Lynch said. “You know a lot of times you put your first unit out and they tend to kind of beat up on the second unit or you have to handicap the scoring so you can somehow make it competitive. We really don’t have to do that here. I feel like whoever we put on the second set or the first set, it’s still very very competitive.”

The team’s competitive edge is increased by Hahn and Matlock, but also by the third member of their class, Hannah Willms. Hahn and Willms knew each other before coming to Iowa State, as they both played club for Nike Six Pack.

The 6-foot outside hitter Willms hails from Waterloo. She is especially unique in that, not only was she a four-year volleyball letterwinner at Dike-New Hartford High School, but she also won 14 state track titles.

Despite her individual success in track, Willms likes volleyball because of the team aspect.

“I think, because of the team, it’s a lot different from sports like track,” Willms said. “All six of us have to get a point instead of just an individual. You have to bring each other up when your down and so it’s really just more of a team sport.”

Willms has gained the attention of Henson, who is an outside hitter as well. Henson said Willms can “jump out of the gym and hit really hard.”

After watching the three new freshmen, Willms in particular, Henson said she has had to step up her game because of the competition they provide for the whole team.

“They are probably the best group of freshmen I’ve seen by far since I’ve come here,” said Henson. “They’re really good, really athletic, and they’re not shy at all so its not like they’re standoffish. Playing-wise I wouldn’t really be able to tell they are freshmen.”

There is no doubt the freshmen bring more competition and talent to the Cyclones, and Johnson-Lynch said they can all contribute this season, even though there is still some work to do.

“All three of them, I didn’t know how ready they would be,” Johnson-Lynch said. “But they’ve all proven that on certain days they can compete with the upperclassmen. I think it’s about, for them, consistency and trying to compete at that level every day, but on days, they are right there with our best players on the team.”