Volleyball racks up good numbers

Travis Cordes

Taking on a prominent role and immediately contributing to a team that competes in one of the nation’s toughest conferences may sometimes be a lot to ask of a college freshman.

But for ISU volleyball’s Ashley Mass, it hasn’t been much of a problem.

Mass, a native of Muskego, Wis., has burst onto the collegiate volleyball scene this season, and has had no trouble adapting to a higher level of play in the Big 12.

“You never know how freshmen are going to respond once they get to college,” said coach Christy Johnson. “But she has taken this role on, and I love how she has responded to the college game.”

Mass’ immediate impact has been a very pleasant surprise for the Cyclones, as she has seen action in every match so far this season, and took over an important role as libero after just seven matches.

In her short time in Ames, Mass has become a primary passer and defensive leader, and much of her success can be traced to her calm nerves and unflappable poise.

“You would never guess that she is a freshman by watching her play,” Johnson said. “She’s calm and has a very composed demeanor about her, and plays just like a fourth-year starter would.”

In the 13 matches since her move to libero, Mass has recorded double-digit digs in each, averaging 5.04 digs per game and registering more than 20 digs in five matches during that span.

She currently leads the Big 12 in digs (4.97 per game), and has been the solid foundation for a Cyclone defense that also ranks atop the conference in digs (18.43 per game).

Putting up those kinds of numbers wasn’t something Mass was expecting to do so early in her career.

“I was hoping I’d get to see some time on the court my freshman year,” said the soft-spoken Mass. “But I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to play quite this much so early on.”

Those numbers have garnered some national attention. She was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week for Sept. 10 to 16, becoming the first Cyclone to earn the honor.

“She’s a very calm player on both sides the ball,” said senior middle blocker Erin Boeve. “Her outstanding defensive awareness and consistency makes everyone very confident in her to pick up anything that gets past the block.”

Even though Mass is playing a position where she is a leader in the back row, her teammates still see signs of the quiet, reserved freshman during matches.

“She’s in a position where she needs to be vocal and talk a lot,” said sophomore setter Kaylee Manns. “But she’s very quiet, and sometimes she may be intimidated by taking a ball from a senior, where at a position like libero she needs to be aggressive and take control of the ball if she can.”

The Cyclones are 9-4 with Mass leading the Cyclones’ strong defensive attack after going 3-4 to start the season, but she has also been able to help make improvements to an offense that has struggled at times.

“Her passing ability makes our offense so much more dynamic,” Boeve said. “She can get us in position to set to any of our three hitters in the front row, which allows us to spread out our offense more.”

The coaches see something special in Mass that makes them believe they found a gem when they got her to come to Iowa State.

“When you watch her play, you get a sense that she has an excellent feel for the game,” Johnson said. “It’s not something you can really articulate, but sometimes you see kids who just show a natural ability for passing, defense and have good control of the ball. She’s a very special player.”