Iowa State volleyball’s young talent prepares for the fall


Lee Chinyama

Maya Duckworth spikes the ball during Iowa State. vs Texas Tech on Nov. 12, 2022.

Payne Blazevich, Sports Reporter

AMES — After their final tournament in Iowa City, Iowa, the Cyclones wrapped up a productive one-month spring volleyball season. 

The team’s developmental season included a tournament win in Hilton Coliseum along with a variety of closed and open matches against opponents across the Midwest. Iowa State’s 2023 spring season was especially important, as the Cyclones will field another young team in the fall. 

Iowa State will be returning a group of veterans, but major contributions will come from first or second-year players. Considering the team’s youth, Iowa State spent its spring building experience and focusing on the individual improvement of younger players.

“We just wanted to really improve this spring, we thought there was a lot of room for improvement with the youth,” head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. “I thought a lot of people got a lot better, and that was the goal.” 

The Cyclones will enter next season with a heavy emphasis on integrating the team’s younger players, but the approach is not unfamiliar for Iowa State. Youth was a key characteristic of last season’s group, where players like Maya Duckworth and Kelsey Perry stood out as true freshmen. 

Iowa State has graduated seven players from that roster, including star outside hitter Eleanor Holthaus. One of the goals for the coaching staff during the spring was to figure out which players could replace her production, not only in kills but passing and setting. 

Duckworth cemented herself as the player best equipped to fill Holthaus’ shoes as her ability to find kills grew “a little bit more terminal” this spring, according to Johnson-Lynch. Still, plenty of production has come from a variety of different players.

“What’s really fun about this team is that, even really every single match we played, we just mixed and matched, and we just threw a different combination of people out there,” Johnson-Lynch said.

Among Iowa State’s newcomers, true freshman Nayeli Gonzalez looks to be a potential breakout player. The 6-foot-2 hitter provides Iowa State with power and a playmaking ability that can complement Duckworth. 

It took Gonzalez some time to adjust to the college level, but by the end of spring, she found her rhythm in the team’s rotation.

“I think she’s gained a lot of confidence; now when you watch her play, you wouldn’t know that she’s really a high school senior,” Johnson-Lynch said. 

With Gonzalez calm and confident in her role, Iowa State has another game-changing player to rely on in big moments. The Cyclones had plenty of different players take over games last season, and it’s a trait Iowa State looks to maintain. 

Key veterans like Alexis Engelbrecht and Annie Hatch provide stability and experience for Iowa State. Paired alongside some dangerous newcomers, the Cyclones look to build on an NCAA Tournament-caliber season.

“We have the ability to [adjust], we have a little bit more flexibility than maybe we did last fall,” Johnson-Lynch said. “It didn’t really seem to matter who was out there, we were always playing at a pretty high level.”