Volleyball transfers eager to make their mark on new-look Cyclones


Solei Thomas (left) and Kate Shannon (right) chat at Iowa State volleyball media day on Tuesday. Thomas enters the Iowa State program after transferring from Clemson.

Aaron Hickman

Going into the offseason, the Iowa State volleyball program had holes to fill at key positions. After losing players such as starting setter Piper Mauck and starting libero Izzy Enna, the coaching staff utilized the transfer portal to help fill those needs to prepare for the 2021 season. But COVID-19 changed how the transfer process normally works, leaving Iowa State and its players thrown for a loop.

“This year was such a hectic process because we played in the spring rather than the fall, so all those names were in the portal in April and May rather than December,” Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said at media day on Tuesday. “We had such a short turnaround time between a name entering the portal, getting to know them and figuring out if they would be a fit, all without the ability to do any visits.

Jaden Newsome, a Missouri transfer who will compete for the starting setter spot, echoed her coach’s sentiment on how different the transfer market was.

“I think this year was definitely different with COVID,” Newsome said. “We weren’t able to visit schools, come on campus, or meet the coaches. I didn’t meet the coaches until I got on campus in June.”

Despite these challenges, the Cyclones were still able to bring in several experienced transfers, Newsome being one of them.

“I definitely bring experience,” Newsome said. “Being older I bring another perspective. I want to bring leadership. And I’m a setter, so my position plays a big role.”

The coaching staff played a big part in selling Newsome on Iowa State’s campus and academics. Newsome could tell the coaching staff was looking to get to know her as a person rather than a transaction to plug in on the court.

Iowa State’s reputation as “Libero U” helped to convince Marija Popovic, a libero who transferred from Pittsburgh, to choose Iowa State.

“Iowa State was definitely the right choice for me,” Popovic affirmed. “Coach Christy was really nice and she definitely offered me everything I asked for and I think Iowa State is one of the best schools for my position.”

Popovic hasn’t had much trouble getting acclimated to her new school. The environment amongst the roster has been relaxed and easy enough to form instant connections.

“I’m really hoping to achieve an NCAA Tournament berth and play my best. I’m hoping to finish my career in the best possible way,” Popovic said.

Solei Thomas, who plays both outside hitter and right side, brings some versatility to the Cyclones’ attack after transferring from Clemson. Education was a big selling point for Thomas, as she is in the process of obtaining her master’s degree in real estate development.

“They have a new program, but the professors and the program in the past had some high numbers, so I thought it would be a great fit,” Thomas said.

One of Thomas’ former assistant coaches played under Johnson-Lynch and she also helped to assure Thomas that she would work well with her new head coach if she came to Iowa State.

Although there are several familiar faces returning, Johnson-Lynch believes the team will have a much different look this year and the new additions have a lot to do with it.

“We return so many hitters, basically all of the hitters from last year, but yet we look like a way different team,” Johnson-Lynch said. “It’s because, whoever wins the position, setter is going to be a new person and libero is going to be a new person. We have such a different look even though we return a lot of players.”

Overall, Johnson-Lynch is pleased with what she’s seen so far. It will take time to bring all of the newcomers up to speed of the nuances of how Iowa State approaches practices and game preparation, but Johnson-Lynch has been impressed with the maturity of the transfers.

“Having graduate transfers is different because they have so much maturity,” said Johnson-Lynch. “It’s gonna take some time, but we’re figuring out where to put everybody to make the most of what they can do. It sure is fun figuring it out.”

The new-look Cyclones have one final exhibition match against Creighton on Friday before opening the season against Omaha on Aug. 27.