Stuve: Iowa State volleyball had a fall full of mixed results

Iowa State volleyball talks during a team huddle, with coaches and players wearing protective masks per the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sam Stuve

Sports this fall have been very unpredictable. Some games and matches were postponed, while some teams didn’t even get to play in the fall because of COVID-19. The Iowa State volleyball team was one of those teams that played this fall and had an up-and-down season.

Iowa State was picked to finish third in the Big 12, behind the Texas Longhorns and the Baylor Bears in the 2020 preseason poll.

Texas and Baylor are in first and second, respectively, but Iowa State is not at third. Iowa State currently stands as tied for fifth (out of nine) at 5-9 with the Kansas Jayhawks.

Throughout the fall portion of the season, Iowa State was at the bottom of the league. This was because of an eight-match losing streak that began Oct. 3 against the Texas Tech Red Raiders and ended Nov. 14 against Kansas.

After splitting the opening series of the season against the Kansas State Wildcats and beating Texas Tech on Oct. 2, Iowa State had a good amount of momentum, led by the efforts of junior outside hitter Brooke Andersen, who emerged as a top offensive option for the team.

Iowa State then lost to Texas Tech on Oct. 3, which kicked off the eight-match losing streak. During this eight-match losing streak, Iowa State struggled offensively, only having a hitting percentage above .210 in one of those matches against Texas Tech on Oct. 3.

The Cyclones’ attacking woes were one of the reasons they struggled to finish out close sets, especially during this eight-match losing streak. 

Out of the 30 sets the Cyclones played during their eight-match losing streak, the Cyclones played in 22 close sets (sets decided by 5 points or less).

The Cyclones struggled mightily at the end of sets because of errors, only winning four of those close sets.

Many players as well as Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch have said end-of-set situations were a focal point in practices this year.

Defensively, the Cyclones did struggle to contain some opponents in some matches during the losing streak, specifically in both matches against Texas as well as the Oct. 23 match against Baylor.

Despite that and losing these eight matches, the Cyclones remained one of the best defensive teams in the Big 12, holding Baylor, who finished seventh in the NCAA in hitting percentage at .278, to a single-match low hitting percentage of .145 in a match Oct. 14.

The Cyclones were actually one of the better defensive teams in the country this fall, finishing 25th in the NCAA in opponent hitting percentage at .200 and 21st in the NCAA in digs per set with 15.1.

The Cyclones finished first in the Big 12 in digs per set, third in hitting percentage and fourth in opponent kills per set with 12.29.

Middle blocker Candelaria Herrera and libero Izzy Enna, both seniors, led the Cyclones defense.

Herrera led the Cyclones in individual blocks with 62 and had the fourth-highest blocks per set in the Big 12 with a number of 1.11.

Enna led the Cyclones in digs with 263. She had 4.70 digs per set, which led the Big 12 and was 12th in the NCAA.

Iowa State entered the final three matches of the season with a 2-8 and sat in eighth place in the Big 12.

In these final three matches, Iowa State played its best volleyball of the season, winning all three of them.

Iowa State won its match Nov. 14 against Kansas, ending the eight-match losing streak.

Against the TCU Horned Frogs on Nov. 20 and Nov. 21, Iowa State had its two best offensive outputs of the season, hitting .346 in the first match and a .314 hitting percentage in the second match. 

In these two matches, junior right-side player Eleanor Holthaus had 36 kills combined, including a career-high 22 kills Nov. 21. 

Holthaus was Iowa State’s best attacker this fall as she led the team in points, kills and hitting percentage. 

She had 194 points (tied for ninth in the Big 12 with 3.46), 173 kills (10th in the Big 12 in kills per set with 3.05) and a .305 hitting percentage, which was 10th in the Big 12.

Iowa State will probably look to Holthaus to lead its offense in the spring. 

At the setter position, senior Piper Mauck and junior Jenna Brandt split time.

Both players were effective, as they both finished the fall in the top 10 in assists per set, with Mauck at seventh-best in the Big 12 with 7.37 and Brandt at eighth with 7.35.

Throughout the fall, Iowa State dealt with some injuries to starters.

Sophomore outside hitter Michal Schuler missed the first half of the season with an ankle injury and redshirt junior middle blocker Avery Rhodes missed the second half of the season with an ankle/foot injury.

The Cyclones only had one series canceled this fall because of COVID-19, the home series versus the Oklahoma Sooners.

This series will be made up in the spring

While it isn’t known what the spring part of the season will look like, the NCAA has said it will allow matches to begin again Jan. 22, and selections for this season’s 48-team NCAA Tournament will be made Dec. 11.