‘One Last Time’ for Eleanor Holthaus


Payne Blazevich, Sports Reporter

In 2018, Iowa State opened its regular season schedule with a matchup against Ole Miss in Hilton Coliseum. The home crowd of over 2,000 fans watched, as true freshman Eleanor Holthaus stepped onto the court. 

Although she played for a smaller club coming out of high school, expectations were high. Her size and strength impressed the coaching staff during her recruitment, and with her natural instincts and decision-making, there was an opportunity to make an immediate impact at Iowa State. 

And it all started with that first set. 

“I was nervous to be honest, like a freshman out there. At Hilton especially, you know, big crowd, big gym – but I was also super excited,” Holthaus said. 

She started three sets that day, helping lead the Cyclones to a 3-0 win over the Rebels. The late-August opener in 2018 was the first of 130 matches and counting for Holthaus, a program record for most matches played. 

Holthaus’ five-year journey has been one of the best in Iowa State volleyball history. From her recruitment to her upcoming final match against Oklahoma Wednesday, she has blown past even the most optimistic expectations. 

During her time at Iowa State, Holthaus has led some of Iowa State’s most impressive wins, improbable comebacks and has consistently delivered in high-pressure situations. She has been voted a first-team All-Big 12 player three times, and has racked up numerous individual accolades. 

Her legacy is already cemented, but with one home match remaining and a postseason left to play, there is still room for Holthaus to make an even bigger impact. 

“She’s one of the best I’ve ever coached,” head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. 

Holthaus’ legendary career started with a less-than-thrilling recruitment. She played the majority of her high school career as both a setter and hitter. It was her versatility and raw physical potential that first attracted the attention of former Iowa State assistant coach Dawn Sullivan. 

“I think [Sullivan] saw her at a smaller tournament first and just said, ‘I just saw this player who’s an incredible athlete, she’s kind of doing a couple different things. She’s setting some, she’s hitting; she’s got such great potential,’” Johnson-Lynch said. 


During her senior year at Rocori High School, Holthaus transitioned from a setter/hitter utility player to a full-time hitter. She finished her high school career totaling 1,500 kills, 851 digs and 95 blocks. Holthaus signed with Iowa State, ranked as the No. 59 recruit in the class of 2018. 

As soon as she stepped on campus, Holthaus was a difference-maker. She was an immediate starter and helped the Cyclones jump out to an early 12-6 record prior to the start of conference play. 

Not only was Holthaus getting the start, but she was making an impact in matches. 

In her debut, Holthaus scored 10 kills en route to a season-opening win over Ole Miss. A strong start preluded a stellar freshman season. 

“She just came out impressive from the get-go,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Her numbers were outstanding right off the bat, so it was kind of cool because you knew right away she was gonna help the team a lot, even being a freshman with hardly any experience.” 

Holthaus helped Iowa State bring home a National Invitational Volleyball Championship, beating Tulane 3-0 in the championship match. But Holthaus and the rest of the Cyclones had their eyes set on reaching even greater heights. 

Iowa State took those strides in 2019, going 17-12 in the regular season and earning a spot in the NCAA Volleyball Championship. That season saw the entrance of a star-studded class, including future starting hitter Annie Hatch. 

“I just remember really looking up to (Holthaus) and thinking she’s such a great player. And as a sophomore at the time, she carried herself really well, and still had a lot of leadership even though she was young,” Hatch said. 

Although a successful regular season helped the Cyclones earn a postseason bid, the season ended on a four-match losing streak, including a loss to Creighton in the first round of the tournament. 

The Cyclones struggled, partly due to a Holthaus injury that saw her miss the final two regular season matches and resulted in limited playing time against Creighton. The season ended in a disappointing manner, but sitting on the bench during the most critical part of the season helped develop Holthaus into an even better leader. 

“[Holthaus has] seen a lot over her career and had ups and downs just like every athlete does, and had some injuries and had to fight through some adversity. So she’s got really good advice, and our players know that, and they will seek her out,” Johnson-Lynch said. 

Holthaus has matured with time, developing into an influence on and off the court for Iowa State. Not only has she gotten better as a player, but Holthaus has helped those around her improve as well. 

It’s why Iowa State has reached the NCAA Volleyball Championship twice during her five years, with an opportunity to make it three times this season.

“Each year has been a little different for me, and each year I’ve taken on a bigger load. But this year especially, I’ve been in these moments, I’ve played in these matches, I’ve been in these positions,” Holthaus said. “For me to be able to share that experience with my teammates and help them, that’s what I want to do.”

Eleanor Holthaus goes up to spike the ball against Kansas State on Nov. 13. (Daniel Jacobi II)

Playing time and experience has turned Holthaus into a veteran leader, but it has also helped her develop one of her most iconic traits as a player: her clutch factor.

“I think (it comes) just from experience and my passion for the game,” Holtahus said. 

Her ability to shine in big moments has helped Iowa State dominate at home this season, no matter the competition. 

In some of the most highly attended volleyball matches in program history, Holthaus has helped Iowa State defeat Iowa, No. 13 Baylor and No. 1 Texas. In each win, Holthaus shined as she led the Cyclones in kills. 

“I love the intense, I love high-pressure situations, you know? I love being put in a spot where we really have to go after it and we really have to work hard and we have to grind,” Holthaus said. 

Those types of wins – the show-stopping, electrifying, one-of-a-kind wins – have defined Iowa State’s 2022 season, and it’s all led by Holthaus. 

With the regular season nearing its end and the postseason on the horizon, there is still time for Holthaus to lead some sport-shaking victories. 

But first, she will have to step on the court in Hilton one last time to take on Oklahoma. 

“It means the world to me,” Holthaus said. “I can’t thank Cyclone Nation enough, I can’t thank my coaches, my previous teammates and the girls I’m playing with now. I’m very grateful for this experience and this opportunity. And ‘one last time’ obviously there’s a lot of emotion behind it, but I’m very, just very grateful.” 

The match won’t be a victory lap for Iowa State. The Cyclones are at a critical point in the season where each match is important, and Iowa State needs every win it can get. 

Before Holthaus can put a cap on one of the greatest careers in Iowa State volleyball history, she will need to step on the court and make an immediate impact.

One last time.