Stuve: Veteran lineup may lead Iowa State to deep NCAA Tournament run in 2020

Iowa State volleyball faced Penn State on Sept. 6. Penn State won 3-0.

Sam Stuve

In the Iowa State volleyball team’s 13 NCAA Tournament appearances (most recent in the 2019 season) under Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch, it has advanced past the second round five times, most recently to the Sweet 16 in 2012 and the Elite Eight in 2011.

In all five of those tournaments where it made it past the second round, it had at least six players on the roster — 15-20 players usually listed on the roster but only 15 can suit up for the match — who were upperclassmen (juniors or seniors). This season, Iowa State has eight upperclassmen on the roster — four juniors, one redshirt junior (Avery Rhodes) and three seniors — which could make it a threat in the 2020 NCAA Tournament if it makes it and the tournament isn’t canceled because of COVID-19.

Johnson-Lynch said leadership is a key part of making a run in the NCAA Tournament, along with staying healthy (especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic this year).

“The years that we’ve had great runs in the tournament, we’ve had exceptional leadership,” Johnson-Lynch said. “That means Izzy [Enna], Candelaria [Herrera] and Piper [Mauck] need to be and are ready to put the team on their back and go.”

Enna, Herrera and Mauck are Iowa State’s three seniors this season and helped lead Iowa State (17-12, 8-8 Big 12) back into the 2019 NCAA Tournament after the team missed out on the tournament in 2018.

Creighton defeated Iowa State 3-0 in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, but Iowa State should see more success in the 2020 NCAA Tournament if it isn’t canceled.

To take the next step and make a deep run in the 2020 NCAA Tournament, it starts with leadership.

Five of Iowa State’s eight returning upperclassmen — Enna, Herrera, Holthaus, Mauck and Rhodes — all started at least 11 of the 29 matches last year and had starting experience in years prior.

Iowa State may see a lot of production from its upperclassmen in 2020.

Herrera, a middle blocker, is one of Iowa State’s two Preseason All-Big 12 Team members (11 total), along with junior right-side player Holthaus.

In 2019, Herrera led the Cyclones in hitting percentage with a .314 clip, which finished tied for fifth in the Big 12 with Texas’ Logan Eggleston.

Herrera would’ve had the opportunity to play in the 2020 Summer Olympics had it not been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Herrera and Holthaus both were All-Big 12 First Team and American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-Midwest Region Team members in 2019.

Holthaus is one of eight unanimous selections for the 2020 All-Big 12 Preseason Team.

In 2019, she placed sixth in the Big 12 in points with 361.5, which led Iowa State, and finished seventh in the Big 12 in kills per set with 3.18.

Mauck, a setter, was also on the 2019 AVCA All-Midwest Region Team and an All-Big 12 Second Team, along with Rhodes. 

She led Iowa State in assists per set with a 10.27 average, which finished fourth in the Big 12.

While Iowa State does have the experience, the production those experienced players have had, earning All-Conference and All-Region honors, may occur again and lead Iowa State back to the Sweet 16 or further in 2020.

Mix in sophomore outside hitter Annie Hatch, who was an All-Big 12 Rookie Team member in 2019, and Iowa State has five All-Big 12 selections (six players in the starting lineup and allowed on the court at the same time) returning from last season’s roster.

Iowa State has been a young squad the past two seasons.

It had only five upperclassmen in the 2018 and 2019 seasons out of 14 players in the 2018 season and 16 players in 2019.

The Cyclones this season have more experience and depth in 2020. Along with having eight upperclassmen, there are 20 players on the 2020 roster and they only lost one player from last season’s roster, Josie Herbst.

Heading into the 2020 season, health university-wide is a concern with the COVID-19 pandemic still a threat in the United States.

The virus could cause the season to be canceled, but it may be too early to speculate what would happen if a player contracted the virus.

If a player has to miss time because of COVID-19 — or is experiencing symptoms — a different illness or an injury, Iowa State should be able to reload as they have 20 players on the roster, assuming the program deems the virus isn’t being spread within the program.

Iowa State has been mostly healthy for the past two years, but a couple of players have had injuries recently.

Holthaus had an ankle injury in November that caused her to miss the second Kansas match, a 3-1 loss, and she didn’t play in all three sets in the first round matchup of the NCAA Tournament against Creighton.

She and junior outside hitter Brooke Andersen missed Iowa State’s spring match on March 8 against the 2019 NCAA national runner-up, Wisconsin, due to injuries.

According to Johnson-Lynch, Holthaus had surgery on her ankle and Andersen broke a bone in her hand in the spring. 

“They were all able to do their rehab pretty much on their own, just not monitored by our staff as much in person,” Johnson-Lynch said.

Andersen and Holthaus have since rehabbed and are “doing very well,” Johnson-Lynch said. 

Iowa State hasn’t made the Sweet 16 since 2012 and is just 1-3 in its last four NCAA Tournament matchups (those four occurring in 2017 and 2019), but with more experience and depth, Iowa State may be in line for a deep NCAA Tournament run in 2020.

The Cyclones are picked to finish third out of nine in the Big 12, behind Texas and Baylor, who were the top two seeds in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.