Johnson-Lynch looks for the volleyball team to establish a defensive identity


Brooke Stonestreet plays volleyball exhibition against Missouri on August 19.

Iowa State volleyball begins its regular season Friday on the road at the rumble in the Rockies tournament in Wyoming.

With several of the program’s all-time leaders missing and six freshmen filling up spots on the depth chart, the team is yet to find its identity for 2022, according to head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch.

“To me, every season is different; every team has different dynamics,” Johnson-Lynch said. “The fun part of coaching is figuring out how we can help this team be the best they can be. It’s like a puzzle you have to solve every year.”

So far in 2022, the Cyclones have completed preseason workouts and the Cardinal and Gold intrasquad scrimmage. The preseason efforts culminated with a win in five sets against Missouri on Friday in the team’s exhibition match.

Now, the team prepares to face outside competition prior to the first official matches of the year. Iowa State will play Creighton, Wichita State and Wyoming in matches Friday and Saturday.

Friday and Saturday’s matches will be the first without two members of its 2021 NCAA tournament team and key components of the program’s recent history. Marija Popovic and Candelaria Herrera were members of the team’s strong defensive identity and have departed from Ames after storied careers in the Cyclone uniform.

Popovic was the 2021 Big 12 Libero and led the conference with 4.56 digs per set. Herrera led the Big 12 with 1.27 blocks per set. Both have now graduated from the program, setting the table for underclassmen to fill new roles and shape the team’s identity.

So far, the task of replacing Popovic has been a team effort with Brooke Stonestreet, Allie Petry and Paula Krzeslak splitting time at the libero spot in the exhibition match. No individual has definitively gained the starting spot at libero, but Johnson-Lynch believes the entire group understands the challenge of replacing the contribution of Popovic.

“She [Popovic] just embodied so much team leadership, hustle and grit. She showed that throughout the whole season,” Stonestreet said. “It’s going to be really hard filling those shoes.”

Stonestreet started the first three sets of Friday’s exhibition match at libero and earned a team-high 15 digs.

The team focus is internal ahead of the first weekend matchups, Johnson-Lynch said. Mainly being more efficient offensively. In Friday’s contest, true freshman Maya Duckworth led the offensive effort with a match-high 17 kills.

The 2021 offensive leader and fifth-year senior Eleanor Holthaus started the exhibition match but rested the majority of the match.

Holthaus was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2021 and her 3.23 kills per set ranked tenth in the conference. She had seven kills in limited time during Iowa State’s exhibition match.

“I think this team is special because we have so much talent,” Holthaus said. “Anybody can go in and have an amazing night. It’s really exciting to have that many weapons and opportunities.”

Along with fellow freshman Duckworth, Kelsey Perry also received a start in Iowa State’s exhibition match. Freshman setter Morgan Brandt played in two sets and contributed eight assists and five block assists.