Volleyball set for final series of the fall, face TCU on Friday and Saturday

Senior middle blocker Candelaria Herrera and sophomore outside hitter Annie Hatch prepare for the next point against Baylor on Oct. 23.

Sam Stuve

The Iowa State volleyball team has one last series of the fall season when it faces the TCU Horned Frogs on Friday and Saturday.

It will be a battle between two of the Big 12’s lowest-ranked teams, with Iowa State tied for sixth out of nine in the Big 12 at 3-9, while TCU is in dead last in the Big 12 at 1-7.

TCU is on a five-match losing streak, while Iowa State just ended an eight-match losing streak by beating Kansas 3-1 Saturday. The Cyclones swept last season’s matchups against TCU, winning both of them 3-0.

Senior middle blocker Candelaria Herrera had good performances in both games against TCU last season, and comes into the road matchup riding a hot performance against Kansas.

Herrera posted a career-high 20 kills Nov. 13 against Kansas, a season-high single-match hitting percentage at .375, 21.5 points in the match, which was a team high and an individual single match season high in points.

On Saturday, she led the team in points with 15.5 in the second matchup with the Jayhawks.

“I was enjoying it a lot,” Herrera said. “I was really happy, also we were doing really good, so it was just a good feeling.”

Herrera said the team had good chemistry all across the court and is likely one of the players TCU’s defense may game plan around.

Herrera has the third most points and kills out of all Iowa State players with 145.5 points and 111 kills.

Iowa State Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch talked about the importance of Herrera’s offense and what she does differently from others at her position.

“We’ve got to do what we feel like is working for us, that means Candelaria hitting different things (shots) right now,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Some middles hit the same set over and over again, but [with] Candelaria, you never know where she’s going to be on the net, sometimes she’s tight to the setter, sometimes she’s away from the setter, and we want to move her around so the defense has to track her.”

TCU’s offense has some players on the attack Iowa State may be focused on defensively at the middle blocker spot and at setter.

Sophomore middle blocker MyKayla Myers leads TCU in hitting percentage at .299, which is ninth best in the Big 12. Sophomore outside hitter Julia Adams leads TCU in kills with 119, which is the eighth best in the conference.

TCU has one of the best setters in the Big 12 in sophomore McKenzie Nichols, who averages 10.69 assists per set, which is second best in the Big 12.

For Iowa State, the setter position has been filled by two different players this year, senior Piper Mauck and junior Jenna Brandt.

Brandt started the season over Mauck, who was an All-Big 12 and All-Midwest player in 2019. Mauck took over the starting duties Nov. 6 and has started the last four matches.

In those four matches, Mauck has averaged 7.44 assists per set and had two double-doubles. Brandt has averaged 8.26 assists per set, seventh highest among Big 12 setters and she had a double-double earlier this season.

Johnson-Lynch said both Brandt and Mauck may play against TCU. She has said on multiple occasions Mauck and Brandt have different skill sets the team needs at different times.

“Piper’s really good when we need a lot of middle [blocking], passing towards the net, she can dump [the ball over the net], she connects on those plays very well and she’s pretty good at setting the back row attack,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Jenna’s good when we need someone to run balls down, when we’re out of system and when there’s a lot of long rallies and transitions going on.”

Johnson-Lynch added, “It’s happened the past few weekends where we keep evaluating and keep seeing what we need each match, so if I were to predict, they both would play.”

TCU’s defense ranks toward the bottom of the Big 12, as it allows the highest opponent hitting percentage in the league at .270 (Iowa State is fourth at .211) and the second-highest opponent kills per set in the league at 13.22 (Iowa State is sixth at 12.51), which is just better than Texas Tech’s 13.88.

“At times, they have a right side blocker that’s just huge and that’s similar to what we saw versus KU,” Johnson-Lynch said. “It’s not unusual, but you have to be smart in the way you attack a blocker like that, so that means hitting [the ball] off their fingertips.”

Johnson-Lynch said it is important that the Cyclones hit the ball down the opponent’s right side line instead of hitting it crosscourt.

To end the final matches of the fall season on a positive note, Herrera and Hatch said the key to winning is being relentless, which is something they said they’ve strived to do all season.

“We have talked a lot about being relentless and as a team, we have a lot of values,” Herrera said. “I think it’s just [about] having the mindset of being relentless and united.”

Friday and Saturday’s matches are being streamed on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.