Iowa State to host Virginia, Ole Miss and Oregon State for season opener

Junior Middle Blocker Grace Lazard goes up for a spike during the first round of the NCAA Volleyball Championship against Princeton University at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa Dec. 01. The Cyclones defeated the Tigers in three consecutive sets.

Jack Shover

The Iowa State volleyball team will jumpstart its season on Friday with a slate of games during the Iowa State Challenge.

The tournament follows a round-robin format from Friday to Saturday that will feature the likes of Oregon State, Virginia and Ole Miss.

Of the teams that will be featured at the tournament, Iowa State is the only team in the preseason top 25 and checks in at No. 21.

Oregon State is receiving votes after a campaign that saw them make the first round of the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to North Carolina State.

Last season, Virginia finished with a 7-24 record, Ole Miss finished with a 22-14 record and Oregon State finished with a 21-12 record.

Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said that she expects Virginia to be a better team than how they performed last year because they return a large portion of their roster. She mentioned that Ole Miss won the National Invitational Volleyball Championship which is one step below the NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an easy weekend by any means, especially playing three matches in two days is difficult,” Johnson-Lynch said.

In contrast, Iowa State went 22-7 and made it to the second round of the NCAA volleyball tournament before falling in three sets to then-No. 11 Wisconsin.

This weekend, senior Hannah Bailey said the Cyclones want to display their improvement in blocking and hitting outside of their system.

“I think all that is going to shine, you know that’s not going to be perfect, but I think it’s going to be better from the spring and the preseason or the past season before that,” Bailey said.

Expect Iowa State to alternate with both sophomore Piper Mauck and freshman Jenna Brandt at setter.

During Iowa State’s exhibition game versus South Dakota, Mauck and Brandt switched out every set and Johnson-Lynch said that she hasn’t settled on a player to be the de facto starter.

Against South Dakota, Mauck finished with 25 assists and Brandt finished with 26.

In addition, Johnson-Lynch said the team may have two setter lineups on the court.

“I really don’t know where [the battle is] going to be. I don’t know if it’s going to be a 5-1 or a 6-2 [lineup],” Mauck said. “I think we’re leaning toward a 5-1, but it’s just who can put up a great ball every play.”

During that same scrimmage, the starting lineups in the first two sets remained the same for Iowa State. The lineup consisted of freshman Eleanor Holthaus at right side, sophomore Avery Rhodes at middle blocker, freshman Brooke Andersen at outside hitter, senior Jess Schaben at outside hitter and redshirt junior Hali Hillegas at libero.

With that being said, Johnson-Lynch said there are battles for several other positions and she expects to see many players getting time this weekend.

Mauck said sometimes it can be difficult to find a rhythm offensively when there are so many different players in the rotation.

“It’s just getting to know your hitters and I mean everybody around you,” Mauck said. “Everybody has a different playing style, so when you have somebody new next to you it’s just that much different in a pass and a set so it can just vary every play.”

Last season, Rhodes was on the Big 12 All-Freshman Team and Schaben was a First Team All-Big 12 member and AVCA Honorable Mention All-American. Also, Hillegas was First Team All-Big 12, an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American and was also the Big 12 Libero of the Year.

Iowa State’s first match this weekend is Friday at 6:30 p.m. against Ole Miss at Hilton Coliseum.