Three Big Takeaways: Solei Thomas looks the part for Iowa State volleyball

Iowa State volleyball head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch talks with the Cyclones during a timeout against TCU on Sept. 25.

Aaron Hickman

It was an impressive showing for Iowa State on Saturday, as the hosts of the Iowa State Spring Tournament went 3-0 against in-state rivals Drake, Iowa and Northern Iowa.

Going 7-2 in sets, the format consisted of three sets per match, with the first and second played to 25 and the third played to 15.

Solei Thomas led the team offensively with 24 kills. Annie Hatch and Eleanor Holthaus each had 19, and Mariah Mitchell was the fourth and final Cyclone in double figures with 12.

Jordan Hopp led the team on the block with six. Thomas contributed five blocks, and Abby Greiman and Alexis Engelbrecht each chipped in four.

Despite Saturday’s success, the main focus for Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch is trying some new things and figuring out what works and what doesn’t while helping different members of the team to develop in their roles.

“If I was just trying to win we would’ve made some changes or subs, but we really wanna just test some things right now and give some things a try,” Johnson-Lynch said. “I think the win isn’t as important as the development, but yet you do wanna see us play at a high level.”

On that note, here are some takeaways from Iowa State’s strong showing at its spring tournament.

Solei Thomas’ (re)emergence

After only playing in 11 sets and contributing seven kills during the fall, senior Solei Thomas is hoping to factor in much more in the 2022 season.

“It’s my last year, so I wanna go out with a bang and bring as much to the team as I can to make us successful,” Thomas said.

She certainly looked the part on Saturday, picking up 24 kills and five blocks and playing in all three matches.

Making the ACC All-Freshman Team in her first year at Clemson while tallying 327 kills, then going on to have 248 and 204 kills in her sophomore and junior year, the potential is clearly there for Thomas to do damage for the Cyclones.

Despite the loss of Brooke Andersen, the team is still loaded with hitters. Thomas will be competing for playing time with the likes of Annie Hatch, Eleanor Holthaus, Kenzie Mantz and Mariah Mitchell. Lucky for her, Johnson-Lynch has taken note of Thomas’ play over the past couple of weeks.

“She really has had a nice spring so far, really making some nice strides,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We’re using her both on the left side and the right side, and I think particularly her left side play has really improved. You can tell, she’s a great player, great athlete, she can get kills for us, and she’s really taken another level in her game this spring.”

For Thomas, now in her second semester at Iowa State, the biggest thing has been getting acclimated to a new environment.

With education being a big selling point in her decision to come to Iowa State, Thomas is working towards her master’s in real estate development after getting a psychology degree from Clemson. The volleyball side of things is coming along.

“I’m not really big on change so it’s hard to adjust,” Thomas said. “But I got my feet wet a little bit so I’m a little bit more comfortable, and my teammates made that easier for me.”

Kelsey Perry adjusting to college, Abby Greiman getting in shape

Kelsey Perry, a middle-blocker from Frisco, Texas, and the No. 45 recruit according to MaxPreps, graduated high school early before coming to Ames to begin her schooling and get some extra work in with the team during the spring.

Seeing time in all three matches on Saturday, the 2022 recruit will be a part of the middle-blocker conversation along with Alexis Engelbrecht, Jordan Hopp and Abby Greiman.

Johnson-Lynch has talked about how the team won’t be looking to replace Candelaria Herrera’s production with one player, but instead with an all-hands-on-deck approach. Perry’s 6’4 frame helps give the Cyclones some size in the middle that teams like Baylor and Texas have, and she could potentially be a piece of that middle-blocker puzzle.

Contributing four kills and two blocks on the day, Perry looked fairly comfortable for a freshman that hasn’t been with the team for that long. With freshmen Allie Petry and Brooke Stonestreet playing such big roles during the fall season, the Texas native could be next up when it comes to impactful first-year players for the Cyclones.

Having to adjust to the college level has come with its own challenges, but Perry is slowly but surely catching on.

“It’s definitely been a big jump,” Perry said. “The pace of the game is a lot faster at the D1 level, and then just getting used to college life with classes and balancing all of that. But it’s been really good, coming to Iowa State has been smooth and my coaches and teammates have made it a lot easier.”

“I really like the culture and community of Ames and Iowa State as a whole. “I enjoy the team a lot and I’m really excited for this season.”

Greiman is another important piece of that middle-blocker puzzle. Coming off of patellar tendon surgeries in both knees, the redshirt junior was just cleared on Friday and had three blocks in the first match of the day against Drake. She spent the entirety of the UNI match on the training bike off to the side of the court before seeing more time against Iowa.

Johnson-Lynch has previously said that the belief is that Greiman will be 100% by the end of the spring, and on Saturday she looked pretty close to it.

Getting the first surgery done right after the NCAA Tournament in December and having the second done about a month later, Greiman said that she is feeling fine physically and now just has to get back to the reactionary and mental part of the game.

As far as the vibe with the middle-blockers goes, Greiman believes it’s a very healthy competition that’s going on so far this spring.

“The four of us are really close, so I think it’s been pretty cool that we’ve been able to help each other and push each other. We’re all different, so I think it’s just figuring out how we can each play to our strengths.”

Paula Krzeslak more comfortable ahead of year two

After starting at libero in 24 of 26 matches while playing in Poland, Paula Krzeslak redshirted for Iowa State in the fall. Now one of the candidates to replace Big 12 Libero of the Year Marija Popovic, the freshman looked quite comfortable on the court.

Making the transition to a college lifestyle after playing for a European team and also dealing with a language barrier presented challenges for Krzeslak. Now, though, you can see how much progress she’s made in adjusting to all the differences she’s had to face over the past several months.

“It was hard for her at first,” Johnson-Lynch said. “The language, everything, it took her a little while to get adjusted. But now this spring I think she’s really coming into her own. She’s more vocal, she’s more comfortable with the language, the style of play and what we ask of her.”

Competing with fellow freshmen Allie Petry and Brooke Stonestreet, as well as senior Kate Shannon, Krzeslak has helped the Cyclones maintain solid defensive play in the midst of losing a star libero in Popovic.

As opposed to last season, most of Iowa State’s answers for this upcoming fall will be coming from within. The continued growth of those aforementioned players will play a big part in whether or not the program will be able to keep up the reputation of the “Libero U” moniker.

“We’ve been playing three people in that libero spot and they’re all really good, then you throw Kate Shannon in who has an awesome serve,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Our defensive play has been really strong. We have some really nice options between our four in the backcourt right now.”