Notebook: Non-conference struggles, Herrera stepping up

Jess Schaben, outside hitter, goes to hit the ball towards Syracuse during the Sept. 16 game in Hilton Coliseum.

Spencer Suckow

Iowa State volleyball begins Big 12 play this week after finishing the non-conference portion of its schedule 7-6.

Non-conference struggles

This wasn’t exactly the start to the season that Iowa State had in mind.

The Cyclones came into the season with high expectations, as evidenced by their preseason rank of No. 21 in the country by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. At 7-6, however, the Cyclones are off to their worst start since Christy Johnson-Lynch took over as head coach back in 2005.

Some of the struggles have certainly been play-related, as Iowa State’s offense has yet to take off and issues with serving have been prevalent.

The most glaring problem that the team has had is finishing off opponents when given the opportunity. That problem reared its head again on Sunday, when the Cyclones blew a 2-0 match lead to Syracuse in their latest loss.

“We just need to figure out a way to finish a game because that’s happened to us about four or five times this season,” said senior Jess Schaben after the loss. “We’re there every game, but we have to find a way to just finish.”

One potential factor in Iowa State’s rough start, according to Schaben, is the team’s youth. Iowa State is currently starting three players that weren’t with the team last season, and a fourth player in sophomore setter Piper Mauck who saw limited playing time.

Beyond the team’s age, external factors have certainly caused issues for the Cyclones. The team has played a brutal non-conference schedule — featuring four ranked teams and multiple other power-five conference opponents — and the team hasn’t had much practice time due to the number of tournaments they’ve had to play.

The schedule won’t get easier in conference play from a competition standpoint, but Johnson-Lynch is confident that the team will improve quickly based on signs she’s seen in practices and games.

“I think we’re hanging in there. It’s been a rough preseason, but I think we’re in a good spot,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We’re determined to keep getting better and we are. I think we’re really close to being a good team.”

Herrera stepping up at middle blocker

Johnson-Lynch said on Tuesday sophomore middle blocker Meegan Hart will have surgery on Wednesday to put a plate in her pinky finger. That’s bad news for an Iowa State squad that already lost fellow middle blocker Avery Rhodes for the season after Rhodes recently opted for hip surgery.

The silver lining for the Cyclones is that Candelaria Herrera, a sophomore transfer from Florida A&M University, appears to be up to the task of filling the void.

Herrera, who moved from outside hitter to play middle blocker, made her first two starts of the season this past weekend and left a solid impression on her coach and teammates.

“We really needed Candelaria to come on, because we need offensive help and she had an awesome match on Sunday,” Johnson-Lynch said. “This week in practice she looks really good, so she’s in a good spot. She’s ready to go.”

Herrera notched a career-high nine blocks on Sunday against Syracuse, and Johnson-Lynch added that she’s especially impressed with Herrera’s work ethic.

Specifically, Johnson-Lynch pointed to the fact that Herrera didn’t have an offseason, and that she’s proud of the improvements Herrera has made in her short time in Ames.

Herrera, meanwhile, said the position change has been a challenge, but that she’s getting more comfortable within her new role with the team.

“Little by little I’m feeling better,” Herrera said. “I was so excited to be a good outside (hitter), but right now the team needs a middle blocker, so I’m doing my best to help the team.”