VOLLEYBALL: Leading and learning

Senior Kaylee Manns, left, and Alison Landwehr, are the Cyclone setters for the 2009 season. Manns has been the starting setter for Iowa State for the past four years and Landwehr has seen action in four sets so far in the 2009 season as a Cyclone. Photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily Taken Oct. 1, 2009, in Hilton

Logan Gaedke

Senior Kaylee Manns, left, and Alison Landwehr, are the Cyclone setters for the 2009 season. Manns has been the starting setter for Iowa State for the past four years and Landwehr has seen action in four sets so far in the 2009 season as a Cyclone. Photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily Taken Oct. 1, 2009, in Hilton

Kayci Woodley

With the guidance of coach Christy Johnson-Lynch, two Cyclone volleyball players have developed and taken their level of play, along with the ISU program, to a new level. Now, two freshmen have become part of the Cyclone family, following in the shadows of one of the top college volleyball duos in the nation.

For freshman defensive specialist Annie Meyer and freshman setter Alison Landwehr, learning from one of the country’s most successful setter/libero combinations — libero Ashley Mass and setter Kaylee Manns  — was a major factor in their decision to play for Iowa State.

“Mass and Manns are the best setter/libero combo’ we have ever had, and there is talk that they are one of the best combos in the country,” Johnson-Lynch said.

The pair of junior Mass and senior Manns has been a core for the Cyclones this season and the two were part of the 2008 ISU squad that earned the first NCAA Elite Eight appearance in school history.

After transitioning from a Cougar to a Cyclone, Meyer now reaps the benefits of learning from Mass, who was the 2008 Big 12 Libero of the Year, while Landwehr has a chance to rotate in with senior Manns, who finished fourth in the nation in assists last season. The two upperclassmen have led the Cyclones together for the last two years as Manns distributes her offense through the solid defensive game that Mass puts forth.

“Having great players in those two positions allows us to compete against the very best teams in the country,” Johnson-Lynch said.

And compete they have, with upsets over No. 10 Minnesota and No. 7 Oregon both in NCAA tournament play last season. This year, the duo has continued to succeed, and with improvements made by both Mass and Manns, the future of Cyclone volleyball is developing as well.

“Iowa State volleyball is now known for great defense and great setting, in large part because of what Mass and Manns have done for our program,” Johnson-Lynch said. “When a libero or a setter recruit is comparing schools, I think we have an edge because recruits see how successful those two players are here and that they would have a chance to be All Big 12 or All-American.”

Maintaining the success of the duo not only helps the Cyclones’ current condition, but betters the future of ISU volleyball, which relies, in part, on how these two can teach and show upcoming players how to perform to the best of their ability.

Meyer earned first team all-state honors and was a member of the all-state team at the state tournament in 2008 her junior year. The Plano, Texas, native missed her senior volleyball season at Canyon Creek Christian Academy, however, due to a knee injury. The newcomer said being able to learn from Mass while first starting out as a Cyclone played a major role in her decision to come to Iowa State.

“It was [a factor] because she’s amazing at what she does,” Meyer said. “I think just by watching her on the court in the games doing what she does, that if I pick that up I’d be in a good spot.”

Mass’ determination accounts for the fact that she was the fastest Cyclone volleyball player to reach 1,000 digs in just the 59 matches of her career — as a sophomore.

“Mass is one of the most consistent players I have ever coached,” Johnson-Lynch said. “I can count on one hand the number of bad matches she’s had.”

That consistency was displayed throughout her first two years as a Cyclone as she posted double-digit digs in every match since her first start with Iowa State. The 44-game streak ended last year against Texas Tech when the then-sophomore came up with only eight. Since then she began another streak of 25 games, and overall since her start as a freshman against then No. 21 LSU, Mass has posted double-digit digs in 76 of her 78 matches.

As the No. 24 recruit in the nation, Landwehr had a number of colleges chalking down her name on the recruitment list. Landwehr was honored as Missouri’s Gatorade Player of the Year during high school. The Chesterfield, Mo., native had offers from Saint Louis, Louisiana State University and Oregon prior to choosing Iowa State. Landwehr, however, wasn’t concerned with finding a place that secured playing time, but rather a place where she could learn and become a better player.

“I saw how [Kaylee] progressed through the years and know what Christy could do with me and just got really excited about that,” Landwehr said.

While Meyer intently watches the immersed Mass vacuum up dinks and slams, Landwehr keys in on Manns’ ability to know where her hitters are at all times.

“I think Kaylee makes really good decisions on the court, so I’m trying to learn from that,” Landwehr said. “She always knows who to go to and how to put the ball away.”

While Meyer and Mass get mixed up on occasion, the personalities of Manns and Landwehr couldn’t be more different. Landwehr tends to be more reserved, while the senior leader Manns can talk a mile a minute to just about anyone.

Another difference between the two setters is that Landwehr is two inches taller than Manns. This height advantage gives Landwehr an edge to be a more offensive setter, with attacks of her own, and enables her to put up a bigger block.

Meyer works along Mass in practice rolling and diving, and is slowly learning what it feels like to be a Division I libero. Mass doesn’t hesitate for an instant, Meyer notices and strives to become more like her role model.

“Some liberos are kind of tentative, but Ashley just goes for everything,” Meyer said. “She’s unbelievable.”

While Meyer intently keeps her eyes glued to the experienced defensive specialist, Mass says she just continues to work hard every day and stay positive. Mass claims Meyer has the ability to read the offense and already has the mentality of a libero.

“She’s got a real nice touch, a natural feel, so she’ll make some really outstanding defensive plays that are just from quick reactions and a great platform,” Johnson-Lynch said.

Johnson-Lynch also commented on Meyer’s serving ability, which is already a tough serve that skims over the net, causing difficulty to receive.

For Manns and Landwehr, practice is a little different than the defensive specialists’. In setter training, the two rotate in and out while Johnson-Lynch works with them developing specific skills. During regular practice sessions, the two are on opposite sides of the net playing against each other and improving the team as a whole in doing so.

“It also really helps in practice because Alison really keeps that second team running at a high level so that we’re always playing a setter who’s running a nice offense over there who can dump the ball, so she’s always kind of a threat there,” Johnson-Lynch said.

Manns loves having Landwehr there, seeing as the Topeka, Kan., native never had anyone pushing her in practice during her first three years as a Cyclone. Manns sees Landwehr as a smart player already who has caught on quickly to the flow of the game.

“There’s always the chance that I’m not playing well or not performing or something’s happening and she could step right in for me,” Manns said. “It’s nice to have somebody behind you like that and to push me to get better and play hard everyday whereas before I could take a day off.”

While Mass and Manns continue to lead the 14–3 Cyclones this season, behind the scenes Landwehr and Meyer push themselves for the future.