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What to look for in the upcoming Iowa State volleyball season

Jacob Rice
Maya Duckworth leaps for a kill during an exhibition game versus Missouri on Aug. 19.

With the exhibition games over, the Iowa State volleyball season is ready to start.

After losing some key players and gaining newcomers ready to shine, the hype is high for the season. Iowa State has a lot to prove after falling to No. 7 in the Big 12 preseason rankings, and Friday marks the start of what may be another historic season.

New Conference Opponents

This season will be the debut of four new Big 12 members. BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF will look to make a strong first impression in their new conference. 

BYU leads the group of newcomers, coming in at No. 2 in the Big 12 preseason poll as well as being the only team besides Texas to receive a first-place vote. Both BYU and Texas had dominant seasons in 2022 and will look to continue building on that momentum. Houston came in at No. 6, followed by UCF at No. 9 and Cincinnati at No. 13. 

Iowa State finished with a conference record of 10-6 in 2022. 

Iowa State is in for a test in conference play as the Big 12 is home to five other teams that joined the Cyclones in last season’s NCAA Tournament. The defending national champions Texas headline a difficult conference slate, coming in at No. 1 in the Big 12 preseason poll for a staggering 13th straight year. 

Texas only had one loss in 2022, finishing the season 28-1. The Longhorns took down No. 3 San Diego and No. 4 Louisville in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

Iowa State was the only team in the country that was able to take down the Longhorns on their route to a national championship in 2022. Big wins like those will be needed against programs like BYU, Baylor and TCU if Iowa State wants to prove that they’ve been overlooked in the preseason. 

Emerging Young Talent

Iowa State graduated seven players last season, including star outside hitter Eleanor Holthaus, who was a three-time first-team All-Big 12 player and the unquestioned leader of the team. Her leadership and ability to perform in the biggest moments is now gone, which may explain the Cyclones drop to No. 7 in the Big 12 preseason poll. 

The team is now on the difficult search for players who can fill in the gap that Holthaus left behind. Not only did the Cyclones lose a significant offensive weapon, they also lost a leader.

A number of talented first and second year players will look to fill in those gaps. 

Second-year player Maya Duckworth was only the third Cyclone ever to be named to the second-team All-Big 12 as a freshman and was a unanimous selection to the All-Big 12 Rookie team. Duckworth and fellow sophomore Kelsey Perry will look to build on impressive freshmen seasons. 

Duckworth earned rookie of the week honors three times in the 2022 season. She also finished the season with the second-highest kill total on the team with 311. If anyone has the chance to take over Holthaus’ offensive presence, it’s Duckworth. Along with the kills, Duckworth also finished the season with 196 digs, 58 blocks and 22 aces.

Freshman Nayeli Gonzalez also showed breakout potential in the spring season and looks to have a big role on the team in the upcoming season.  

The talented newcomers, combined with veterans such as Alexis Engelbrecht and Annie Hatch, will look to put together another strong season and secure an NCAA tournament bid. 

Hilton Magic 

Iowa State was a tough team to beat at home last season. 

The Cyclones had an impressive 11-2 record at Hilton Coliseum, including handing perennial Big 12 powerhouse and the eventual 2022 national champion Texas its only loss of the season in a shocking 3-2 upset. 

Continuing the trend of home dominance will be a key to Iowa State’s success in 2023. Iowa State will host non-conference opponents in the Cardinal and Gold Challenge as well as the Cyclone Invitational. 

The Cyclones’ conference home schedule includes two matches against Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas and one match each against Texas Tech, UCF and Cincinnati. 

Although the Cyclones don’t take on Texas at home again, they have many chances to get big upset wins against tough competition.

The season starts Friday with the Cardinal and Gold Challenge in Ames. The Cyclones will face off against South Dakota at 6:30 p.m. Friday, followed by a meeting with DePaul at 1 p.m. Sunday.

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Jacob Rice, Visual Editor
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