Cyclones’ Jess Schaben ready to achieve new heights

Junior Jess Schaben, celebrates after earning a point against TCU on October 21st.

Jack Shover

Unlike last season, senior outside hitter Jess Schaben had the luxury of a full offseason to prepare for the fall. After her sophomore campaign, Schaben underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum that had been torn since her freshman year.

Despite the injury and subsequent surgery, Schaben was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2015 and was an American Volleyball Coaches Association Honorable Mention All-American. She was All-Big 12 First Team in 2016 and 2017.

“I think one of the biggest things is I feel really good this year,” Schaben said. “Whereas last year coming in I wasn’t totally back, but I think coming in it’s really nice to not be in pain and to not have to think about limiting swings and everything like that — so that’s a really good feeling to have.”

Schaben isn’t the only person who has noticed how she looks in practice. Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch also noticed how she looks better compared to last season when she was coming off the shoulder surgery.

Johnson-Lynch said that before the 2017 season, she was nervous as Schaben had been dealing with a recovering labrum, but has noticed that Schaben currently looks sharper compared to her junior year.

“She was just not hitting the ball the way she had, so this year she’s already that much further ahead,” Johnson-Lynch said.

A healthy Schaben was then one of 12 collegiate players named to the U.S. National Collegiate Team this past summer.

The team spent July 4-15 together and traveled to Europe to compete against top European teams in exhibitions and a tournament.

During her time competing with the U.S. team, Schaben started 17 of her 23 sets played and averaged 3.75 kills, 1.25 aces and one block per game.

European volleyball does not collect common American statistics such as hitting percentage.

Schaben said that the skill of the American team created an environment that she felt the need to compete at the highest level at every practice.

“It was always competitive,” Schaben said. “Every practice we had was just getting after it, and you had so many expectations to be always on. [The team] was really competitive all the time.”

One of the biggest takeaways Schaben had with the U.S. team in Europe is that she has learned much more about herself as a player.

Schaben had to learn that she had to work on getting the ball up and evolve her defensive game due to the height of the European players and even her own teammates.

“It was just crazy playing defense behind 6-8 and 6-9 [players], so learning to play defense behind them was something that I haven’t really been able to do until then,” Schaben said.

In addition, Schaben noted that the two-week span that she spent playing and practicing with the U.S. team has allowed her to come into fall practice less rusty than past years.

Schaben isn’t the only Iowa State player who has played for a national team as senior middle blocker Grace Lazard, who is a native of London, England, suited up for the English Senior National Team in the summers of 2016 and 2017.

Lazard noted that the combination of a two-week national team stint and a healthy offseason have done wonders for Schaben.

“It’s good to know she looks comfortable, she’s feeling good, she can make the shots she wants to make,” Lazard said. “I think her going overseas was just another way to kind of prepare.”

The coaching staff is hoping to refine smaller aspects of Schaben’s game, including her ball-handling, passing and giving her more responsibility with court space.

Another aspect that Johnson-Lynch wants her to improve upon is the angles at which Schaben spikes the ball.

“She’s already good,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We’re just trying to get her that little bit better.”

One aspect of Schaben’s game that Johnson-Lynch said has improved recently is her hitting in the back row. This past spring she improved so much in that area that it became a weapon for the Cyclones.

In the Cyclones’ first exhibition this fall, Schaben recorded eight kills and eight digs in a match that saw the Cyclones win 3-1 versus South Dakota. Schaben looked like one of the top players on the court.

This season will be tough for the Cyclones with the usual Big 12 slate to pair with a tough non-conference schedule. Despite that, Schaben doesn’t waver in her goal for the season.

She says that the teams goal is to win the Big 12 this year. With her healthy and ever improving, she can take the Cyclones to new heights.