VOLLEYBALL: Manns set for timely end to ISU career

Cyclone volleyball setter Kaylee Manns. The senior co-captain has broken several records during her Iowa State career and is on pace for several more before her time as a Cyclone ends. Photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Logan Gaedke

Cyclone volleyball setter Kaylee Manns. The senior co-captain has broken several records during her Iowa State career and is on pace for several more before her time as a Cyclone ends. Photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Travis Cordes

In the first few weeks Kaylee Manns spent on the Iowa State campus, the coaching staff was just trying to get her to show up to meetings on time.

But three years later, the senior has come a long way from being the freshman that had trouble turning in her laundry when she was supposed to.

Instead, she became a key factor during the Cyclones’ ascent from their spot as a perennial doormat of the Big 12 five years ago to a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament for the last three seasons (with a record of 6-3 in NCAA play). In the process, she has become a leader of the team and one of the premiere setters in the nation.

“She has come a long, long way in the time that she has been here,” said coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. “She has really brought our program along. To go from where she had been to where she is now is pretty impressive.”

Manns was voted to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America Second Team and the All-Big 12 First Team at the end of last season, and was a preseason all-conference pick each of the past two years. She led the Big 12 and was ranked fourth in the nation in set assists last season with 11.69 per set.

But along with her time-management skills, her talent as a setter wasn’t abundantly obvious when she arrived in Ames.

While the three-sport star at Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, Kan. came in as a freshman with a truckload of athleticism, she possessed a somewhat undeveloped array of setting skills.

“There’s no comparison now to my level of play when I got here,” Manns said. “I had played volleyball but had never had any real formal training, I was just an athlete. But now after three years here I’m so much more of a smarter player and much more aware on the court. And that’s all credit to the coaches for being able to train me.”

Despite her raw set of volleyball-specific abilities early on, Johnson-Lynch saw plenty of potential in Manns, which was all that someone with her kind of knowledge needed.

The head coach of the Cyclones was a two-time All-American setter at Nebraska in 1994 and 1995, leading the Huskers to a 65-2 record and the 1995 national championship during her final two seasons in Lincoln.

The bond that they have as setters has allowed Manns to refine her talent and athletic ability, but their relationship also goes beyond just being able to master the physical skill the position requires. Due to the fact that the offense funnels through the setter on nearly every point, she’s bound to make a mistake or two, which is something Johnson-Lynch can easily relate with.

“I think I have an advantage that I understand what it’s like to be the setter,” Johnson-Lynch said. “You make bonehead plays sometimes. And some coaches that weren’t setters don’t understand that setters don’t make the perfect set or set the right person every time.”

But during the majority of points, Manns plays the point just as Johnson-Lynch feels she should, to the point of borderline telepathy. After spending three years together, the coach often finds it eerie that Manns can perfectly execute the play she has in mind without even telling her to.

“A lot of nights I’ll think to myself that we need to run a certain play,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Then she’ll set the exact person I was hoping she would set. So it’s kind of cool knowing that she’s an extension of the coaching staff on the court.”

Since winning the starting job as a freshman, Manns has broken several school records in her first three years, and is on pace to destroy them by the time her career is over. As the first match of the 2009 season approaches, she needs just 63 set assists to break the all-time school record, and already holds the top three spots on the all-time list for assists in a single season.

Last year she also became just the second Cyclone ever to become a member of the 1,000 kill/1,000 dig club, and is third in school history with 50 career double-doubles.

“I couldn’t ask for a better setter,” said sophomore outside hitter Rachel Hockaday. “She’s just one of a kind both on and off the court. All of us on the team respect her and she knows how to take control and take charge of the team. I’m going to hate to see her go, but I’m just glad we still have her for one more year.”

When all is said and done, Manns is in position to arguably be one of the best players to ever play volleyball at Iowa State, a statement already validated by her numbers after just three seasons.

As far as Manns is concerned, however, there is still plenty left to be accomplished before her time at Iowa State comes to a close (as she is quick to point out, the team has yet to defeat Texas or Nebraska in her career). With her talent and leadership along with the more than capable cast of players in place around her, producing another special season isn’t out of the realm of possibilities for the Cyclones during her final season.

The clock may ticking down on her career, but it’s good to know she has her time-management skills in order.