Piper Mauck works toward breakout second season

Piper Mauck prepares to serve during a match against Kent State on Aug. 25 in Hilton Coliseum. Cyclones went on to sweep Kent State 3-0 in their first match of the season. 

Spencer Suckow

The Iowa State volleyball team is going over their goals for this season.

Watching a slideshow, the Cyclones eventually get to one goal in particular. One that doesn’t mention the team as a whole, but rather one specific player whom the team believes will ultimately serve as an integral piece to achieving all those goals.

That player is soon-to-be sophomore setter Piper Mauck.

“Big season for Piper,” senior outside hitter Jess Schaben revealed as the goal. “She’s the only setter, so there was a lot of focus on getting her ready to go.”

Even with the extra attention of being the only setter on the roster this spring, there was always a plan to get Mauck more involved this year.

Coming into last spring as an early enrollee and the No. 24 recruit in the country according to PrepVolleyball.com, Mauck stepped on campus as one of the most talented recruits Iowa State had ever signed.

However, because there’s often a steep learning curve for freshmen setters, Mauck played sparingly her true freshman season. Head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch compared the task to starting as a freshman quarterback in football, and said the biggest challenge for young setters is often the more cerebral aspects of the game.

This includes command of the floor and anticipation, two areas where both players and Johnson-Lynch have noticed significant improvement from Mauck in this spring. Combine that improvement with her rare physical traits, and the team says the sky is the limit for the Des Moines, Iowa native.

“Physically, you look at [Mauck] and think ‘wow, that’s a special athlete out there,’”said Johnson-Lynch. “The best thing she does is because she’s so tall, she’s connecting with our middles really well. Middles love to hit off of tall setters.”

Mauck is fully aware of the potential she possesses and the pressure to improve and live up to the expectations of both the coaching staff and her recruiting rank has only motivated her to work harder.

In fact, many of the aforementioned improvements she’s made to this point are due in large part to the work she’s put in this off season.

At the Iowa State spring tournament, for example, Mauck was one of the first people on the court for warm-ups. The sophomore was working with new coach Fiona Fonoti and a couple of teammates, going over a couple of pointers before the first match of the day.

Working with Fonoti has become a regular part of Mauck’s routine since the Cyclone’s new coach joined the staff. Fonoti herself was an All-American setter at the University of Nebraska, and Mauck regularly comes in early to work with the newest member of the Cyclones’ coaching staff.

“(Fonoti) has been awesome and her personality is great,” Mauck said. “She’s given me way more drills to work on and has a whole different perspective of what I need to work on and what works for me.”

For the most part, those drills focused on improving Mauck’s footwork, blocking and dumping. Mauck says she didn’t get many chances to work on some of these areas because of the 5-1 system Iowa State runs, which calls for five hitters and only one setter on the floor at a time.

Last year, that setter was Monique Harris, who finished her last season of eligibility with Iowa State in the fall. While Mauck says rivalries can sometimes develop between setters when competition for playing time is so tight, Harris instead took Mauck under her wing and the two formed a relationship that remains strong even without Harris on the roster.

“It’s just super chill,” Mauck said. “She’s still at practice right now and we’re still laughing back-and-forth.”

Though the two are close, their playing styles are actually quite different due to the height difference between them. Harris is a full four inches shorter at 5-feet-9-inches, and her style relies more on speed and anticipation in comparison to Mauck.

This allowed Mauck the chance to gain new perspectives on how to play the position and improve in other areas, which she took full advantage of in her one year behind Harris.

“Just watching her off the court, during games or being at practice with her, I think she pushed me to be much more aggressive and hustle more on the court,” Mauck said.

If Mauck is able to put together all that she’s learned for Harris, Fonoti and others, she could be well on her way to achieving that big season mentioned in the team’s preseason slideshow. Should that happen, there’s a good chance the Cyclones will see many of those other goals on the slide met as well.

With that being said, it’s still just the spring, and Mauck knows there’s still a long way to go and much more to improve on between now and August.

“I’m trying to set goals for myself every practice and get to that point and slowly step my way up and I think I’m seeing results from that,” Mauck said. “I hope that by this fall, I’m ready to be and I can keep going up from there.”