Cyclones bolstered by return of key players, strong performance from Rhodes



Iowa State volleyball players celebrate after a point against Kansas State on Thursday in Hilton Coliseum. (Photo courtesy of Luke Lu/Iowa State Athletics)

Aaron Hickman

In an important match with the season coming close to an end Thursday, the Iowa State volleyball team was back to full health and beat the Kansas State Wildcats.

Beating Kansas State 3-1 (25-21, 23-25, 25-20, 25-17), Eleanor Holthaus and Marija Popovic (out for three matches due to Big 12 Health and Safety Protocols) were back like they never left.

Holthaus led the team with 17 kills on a .364 hitting percentage while playing on the left side, opposite of where she usually starts. Popovic had 15 digs and was right back to handling tough spikes and diving for pancake digs.

Talking about how nice it was to get back out there, Holthaus said it was great to be back with her teammates and get in a rhythm in a big win.

If the box score didn’t make it obvious, there was no rust for the team’s kill leader.

“I’ve played this sport my whole life, so it’s kind of like riding a bike,” Holthaus said. “It’s just routine.”

Avery Rhodes got the start at middle-blocker, and she had a very impressive performance. No stranger to important matchups in the Big 12, Rhodes was ready for the moment.

Contributing 12 kills on a .409 hitting percentage while tallying two digs, the senior injected the team with confidence and made several momentous plays.

“It felt great,” Rhodes said. “I’m used to being in tough situations and knowing how to deal with them.”

Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch couldn’t have been more pleased with how both players stepped up. She talked about how Holthaus wasn’t really able to be around the past couple of weeks and still played great and said Rhodes had been playing really well in practice and matches leading up to Thursday’s match.

After having to make adjustments in the absence of Holthaus and Popovic, it was no adjustment getting them back into the lineup.

“I think Pops just kind of steps in and does her thing that she’s been doing,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Asking El to play a different position is a pretty big deal. I feel like our vibe in practice this week has been really good, really positive. So I would say getting them back was fun, and it felt good. It wasn’t like: ‘oh, what are we going to do?’. It was like: ‘welcome back!’.”

Oddly enough, the band that’s so happy to be back together will take a day off Friday as the second match isn’t until Saturday.

Holthaus believes it will be weird since the team is so used to playing back-to-backs, but the break will benefit the players’ bodies and minds.

Johnson-Lynch sees the situation from the opponents’ perspective.

“I think K-State would like to play and go home,” she said. “I don’t think anybody really likes to stick around in the opponent’s city. I guess I’m just kind of neutral on it. It is what it is. It will be interesting. We both have more time to rest and recover then make adjustments, so we’ll see if that helps either team more or not. I don’t know. It’ll be a busy day tomorrow for both teams trying to get ready for Saturday.”

Off day or not, Saturday is incredibly important. Before the team heads to Waco and ends the regular season against sixth-ranked Baylor, another win at home is the priority.

Rhodes laid out the goal in a simple fashion. 

“We need to get that win, and hopefully take some from Baylor.”