Notebook: Iowa State looks to improve offense, maintain defense before Big 12 play

Candelaria Herrera and Annie Hatch jump up to block the ball.

Aaron Hickman

Sitting at 8-3 overall, the Iowa State volleyball team enters Big 12 conference play this weekend against TCU with a clean slate and a new season in front of them. After several weeks on the road, the team is looking to continue their success and improve in certain areas in front of the fans at Hilton Coliseum.

Block and defense

Iowa State’s defense has been a strong point all season, and it’s been something to fall back on when the offense hasn’t performed well. The team is only allowing opponents to hit at a .186 rate, and in the past couple of weeks, the blocking game has taken a huge step forward.

Candelaria Herrera has been a big part of that improvement, leading the team in blocks and providing a steady presence at the middle blocker position.

“I think we’re doing a great job as a team,” Herrera said. “We’re able to do what we’ve been practicing and our blocking has improved a lot. It’s just a lot of work we put in in practice.”

Starting libero Marija Popovic, a newcomer to the program has also been very steady for the Cyclones as she leads the team in digs and displays a knack for keeping difficult plays alive.

“I think our defense is good this season,” Popovic said. “I heard that Iowa State is very popular for defense. I think we’re putting so much effort into every defensive play and getting to every ball.”

Brooke Andersen talked about how the team prides themselves on getting touches on the block and how this makes it easier for the back row to do their job. The same goes for the back row getting touches and helping out the block.

“We’ve always felt like defense is our identity at Iowa State, and so the team is embracing that and doing a nice job being pretty relentless on defense,” Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said.

Improvement on offense

Although the offensive numbers have been solid for Iowa State this year, there have been some sets and matches that leave much to be desired. The defense has been able to help alleviate some of the offensive problems, but these are problems that need to be fixed to be competitive in the Big 12.

“We need a little shot in our offense,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We just need to kill the ball more and be a little more efficient. That’s a big focus for us is improving our offensive numbers. They’re good, but we want to keep getting better. It’s always every part of the game, but I think with offense it starts with something else.”

That “something else” comes from different areas. 

“Sometimes it’s serving tougher so you get a better ball back. Sometimes it’s handling the ball better so our setter has choices,” she said. “It’s not always the hitter. Sometimes it’s the other parts of the game that need to get better so your offense improves.” 

Andersen discussed how the team has been practicing certain aspects to help get the offense up to speed.

“We’ve been working on little things that can help our game like offensive connection and being able to sideout quicker and stop other people’s runs quicker, then keeping our serve and pass game strong,” Andersen said.

In Iowa State’s three losses this season, the common denominator has been inefficiency on offense. With tough conference opponents coming up, it will be interesting to see how the Cyclones respond.

Kicking off conference play at home

Johnson-Lynch believes getting into the schedule that conference play provides will be beneficial for everyone.

“The past few weeks have been a bit of a grind,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We’ve been on the road and had a lot of matches, and it just feels like you’re constantly prepping and playing then getting ready for the next match.”

Iowa State gets to start Big 12 play at home after several weeks away from Hilton Coliseum. After having fans back in the arena for the first two matches of the season, the team is excited to feel that energy again.

Herrera believes the team is fortunate to have the first conference game at home, and she shared how excited she is to play in front of the fans again Friday and Saturday.

Andersen shared the same sentiment and hopes to perform well in front of the Cyclone faithful.

“Hilton is always a fun place to play and our fans are always great, so it’ll be good to play in front of them again, especially through conference,” Andersen said. “Hopefully we can play well for them and get a win.”

Popovic talked about how she is excited to play at Hilton again and finally see what the Big 12 is all about, as she transferred from the University of Pittsburgh in the offseason.

“The first weekend was really amazing and I liked the atmosphere, so I’m very excited to play at Hilton again,” Popovic said. “It’s amazing playing in front of our crowd and in front of our friends and family.”