Takeaways: Cyclones start slow, end strong to conclude spring season

The Cyclones celebrate a successful kill from sophomore outside hitter Kenzie Mantz on March 26 in Iowa State’s win against Wayne State at Hilton Coliseum.

Adarsh Tamma

The Iowa State volleyball squad concluded its 2020-21 season in late March with a sweep over Division II opponent Wayne State, as the Cyclones took the first match 3-1 and closed out the series with a 3-0 victory.

The Cyclones finished the spring season with a record of 3-3, totaling their overall record on the year at 8-12 going back to the fall semester’s slate of matches of all Big 12 opponents.

A major theme of Iowa State’s spring season was the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their schedule, as the Cyclones had three of their five home matches canceled in mid-March before finally returning to Hilton Coliseum to host the Wildcats.

The Cyclones were first scheduled to play Illinois State on March 10, but the Redbirds had to cancel their travel plans due to not having enough medically available players on their roster per the Missouri Valley Conference’s guidelines. They had another pair of matches canceled for March 19 and 20 against Oklahoma.

Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch expressed satisfaction on her team’s final home matches and for the season at large after their win over Wayne State on March 26.

“I’m just proud of the way they’ve hung in there and kept battling through a rough spring with everything that’s going on,” Johnson-Lynch said.

First half: Defense key to wins

Iowa State’s first couple of matches were on the road, as the Cyclones traveled to Milwaukee for a pair of matches against Saint Louis and Marquette, the latter of whom were No. 24 in the nation at the time.

The Cyclones got off to a fast start against the Billikens, sweeping their opponents by a score of 3-0 and finishing with a hitting percentage of 0.316, but it was on the defensive end where both matches were won. Iowa State outdug Saint Louis 30-22 in their first matchup, while also serving nine aces over the course of the match compared to the Billikens’ five.

The theme of defense continued in the Cyclones’ second match with Marquette, where they were defeated three straight sets. The Golden Eagles, who entered the matchup with an 8-1 record, outdug Iowa State 55-37, as well as served five aces to the Cyclones’ three. Marquette then turned its offense into defense, recording 54 kills and assists apiece compared to the Cyclones’ 33 and 31 respectively to close out the match in three hard-fought sets.

Defense continued to be the name of the game for Iowa State in its next series against DePaul in Chicago. The Cyclones and Blue Demons went the distance in the first matchup, battling back and forth for five sets until DePaul eventually came out on top three sets to two.

While both teams were nearly identical in the offensive stats, with both teams knotting 60 kills and DePaul outpassing the Cyclones 58-57, it was on the defensive end where the Blue Demons proved to be the victors. DePaul recorded 63 digs compared to Iowa State’s 59, and despite hitting at just 0.191 to the Cyclones’ 0.227, earned a 3-2 win.

Second half: Shift in lineup yields Cyclone offense

Iowa State came into the spring season with a more depleted roster than when they played last fall. The Cyclones’ outside hitting pair of sophomore Michal Schuler and junior Brooke Andersen both sat out this spring due to injuries, while senior middle blocker Candelaria Herrera opted to stay in her native Argentina to train with the national team in Buenos Aires. Herrera is hoping to land a spot on the roster for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo later this year and still has one year of eligibility left per the NCAA’s rules.

The Cyclones had to therefore shift their lineup a bit, and Johnson-Lynch moved sophomore Kenzie Mantz to Andersen’s position for the team’s opening matchup against Saint Louis. Mantz made the best of her first career start, recording a career-high 11 kills and finished the match with a team-leading 0.500 hitting percentage. The Belle Plaine, Iowa, native proved to be a key part of the Cyclones’ attack all spring, ending the season on a high note by knotting 17 kills and hitting 0.361 to cap off a 3-0 win.

Iowa State also saw a shift in its left side of the offense, where junior Eleanor Holthaus was moved from the right side to pair with Mantz and fellow junior Avery Rhodes. The trio combined for 40 of the Cyclones’ kills in their match together against DePaul, and Holthaus improved from there. The Richmond, Minnesota, native recorded 14 kills in the team’s second match against the Blue Demons, and capped off the season with a homecoming against Wayne State, knotting 22 and 11 kills respectively in each win to end the Cyclones’ three-match skid.

The Cyclones also got a boost in the passing game through senior setter Piper Mauck, who proved to be a spark plug in her team’s offensive game all season long. Mauck recorded a team-high 458 total assists for the 2020-21 season, finishing in double-digit figures for the Cyclones’ six matches in the spring.

The Des Moines native saved her best for last, as she recorded 89 total assists in Iowa State’s final series against Wayne State. Mauck had 50 assists in the Cyclones’ first matchup, outscoring the entire Wildcat team in the passing game, who had 38 assists in all.