“We’re really coming together”: Cyclone volleyball offense improving


Jacob Rice/Iowa State Daily

Solei Thomas gets ready for a kill in Iowa State volleyball’s spring tournament on April 2, 2022.

Christian Royston

Just as fast as it began, the spring volleyball season is quickly reaching a close. With just two tournaments left to gain quality reps against real opponents, the Cyclones are seeking to finish on a high note as they look toward the fall season.

The Iowa State volleyball team is coming off a strong outing against all their in-state rivals over the weekend. The Cyclones swept their competition, going 3-0 on the day and dropping just two sets through the whole tournament, picking up 2-1 wins over Iowa and UNI and sweeping Drake.

The name of the game in the spring is improvement, and the Cyclones are doing just that. If they want to come out strong in the fall season, the team as a whole needs to take advantage of the reps they are getting.

“I think we are improving every day…that’s what spring is for, improving what we need to improve on for the fall,” senior Solei Thomas said.

Thomas came into her own over the weekend, leading the team with 24 kills on the day. After transferring from Clemson, Thomas played in just 11 sets and scored seven kills in the fall season. She also contributed five blocks, trailing only Jordan Hopp’s six.

Like many other seniors, Thomas is looking to finish her collegiate career in a strong fashion and figures to be a key contributor in the fall season. She was a key player at Clemson and needed time to get used to the Iowa State offense.

“I got the chance to get my feet wet, so now I’m a little more comfortable and it’s been a little bit easier in the spring,” Thomas said.

Thomas is not the only player stepping up to the challenge. Players at every position are seeing significant improvement as they continue to get more and more reps.

There were plenty of holes left behind in the 2021 season from the departing seniors, so the Cyclones need players to step up and claim those roles. Lucky for the team, there have been shining spots throughout the lineup.

“We have so many girls that can play so many positions and step in,” Eleanor Holthaus said. “I think we are going to be okay this fall.”

Among the main focuses of the team is upping their offensive output. In practices and spring matches, the team has been working on perfecting their back-row attack as well as their slide attack with their middles.

Improving the offense will allow the team to make up for the production they lost with the roster departures. One of those key contributors that the team will surely miss is Candelaria Herrera.

“Candelaria’s loss is big, but our middles are getting a lot better, and they are doing some really good things,” Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said.

The team does not plan to fill Herrera’s spot with just one player but instead have many people step up to fill certain roles when needed. Johnson-Lynch talked about the wrinkles they are adding to the offense to make up for balls that would have gone in their favor if they had last season’s offense.

The impact of Herrera cannot be understated, as many sets and passes were fed to her with expectations that she could secure kills. Now, the offense must shift and adapt if they want to find success in the fall season.

Although it is still early in the year, Johnson-Lynch has nothing but praise for where the team is currently. The back-row attack has seen great improvement and could easily make up for the loss of the big offensive weapon in Herrera.

“Our outsides are hitting with a lot more range than they ever have,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Obviously, I could probably go through each position and say something good. I’ve seen some really good improvement.”

One position that has gathered many looks across the coaching staff is the libero spot. It was clear that the departure of the 2021 Big 12 Libero of the Year Marija Popovic would leave big shoes to fill, but the Cyclones are more than prepared to take on the challenge.

Living up to their moniker as “Libero U,” the team has produced four capable candidates at the position that have demonstrated great production throughout the spring season. Redshirt freshman Paula Krzeslak looked more comfortable in the position during the Iowa State Spring Tournament, as senior Kate Shannon and freshmen Allie Petry and Brooke Stonestreet have made great strides of their own. 

With how stacked the libero position is, the starter that comes out on top will have to be elite if they want to win out against the rest of the competition. Not only are the liberos competing for a starting spot, but improvement comes naturally when they are constantly being pushed to the limit of their potential.

Johnson-Lynch talked about how each of the liberos has improved greatly over the spring season and said, “all four of them have improved their serves this spring. That’s key.”

Not only has the serving seen big improvements, but the passing is continuing to grow as well. In each match, the passing numbers continue to rise, which helps their offense continue to improve.

Normally, there are three players in the back half of the court passing the ball, as it is very difficult for just two people to keep the attacks at bay. However, the team currently looks strong enough that a different approach might be tested to gain more success.

“They are passing so well that we are starting to look at just two of them passing the whole court. They are passing that well,” Johnson-Lynch said.

With how quickly improvements are coming across the board, the team can focus on figuring out last-minute details for the 2022 season. Only two tournaments are left for the team to play around with the lineup and determine their best path for success.

No matter which way they go, every player on the team looks fit to take on the responsibility. The team is getting more comfortable with each other and figuring out which lineups fit the best.

“I’ve seen so much improvement from every single person on the team,” Holthaus said. “We’re really coming together. We’re figuring things out.”

The team has looked great throughout the spring season, and they have another tough progress check ahead of them. As the team gears up for the K-State Kansas City Spring Tournament, some tough SEC teams are waiting around the corner.

“We’ll get really tested this weekend,” Johnson-Lynch said.

The second to last weekend of the spring season will send the Cyclones to the Kansas City Spring Tournament. Iowa State will face off against Arkansas at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Swinney Rec Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Iowa State will then take on Missouri at 11 a.m., Saint Louis at 12:45 p.m. and Rockhurst at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday.