Cyclone volleyball begins spring season against Creighton

Right after the final point was scored on KU at the women’s volleyball game, the team immediately celebrated their win on October 28th. The players who were not playing at the time ran over to celebrate with the rest of their team.

Spencer Suckow

The games may not “technically” count, but Iowa State volleyball is back in action.

After starting spring practices four weeks ago, the Cyclones will begin their spring schedule of games this Thursday against Creighton.

It’s been nearly four months since the Cyclones’ season ended after a loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament, and the team has been hard at work to ensure they best that mark this season.

“The team is looking really good,” said sophomore Avery Rhodes. “We’re communicating more, hustling more, hitting better shots and honestly our goal is to be able to be ready next year and win a big title.”

Although very little game-planning will be done for the match-up, Creighton should provide a good benchmark for how the Cyclones are progressing toward that goal.

Last year, the Bluejays won the Big East Conference and made the NCAA Tournament, finishing with a record of 26-7 and a No. 16 ranking in the final American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.

One of those seven losses for the Blue Jays last season came against Iowa State, as the Cyclones defeated Creighton in five sets last year at the Shocker Volleyball Classic.

With that being said, head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch isn’t taking anything from last season into account going into Thursday’s match-up, especially given that Creighton lost several players from last year’s roster.

Instead, with this still being the spring, Johnson-Lynch and the players are far more focused on continuing their own development as a team. Specifically, Johnson-Lynch says that the team has emphasized both hitting shots from different spots and improving on scoring when out of system.

In these regards, two players that have stood according to Johnson-Lynch are sophomore Piper Mauck and junior Josie Herbst.

“This is a big spring for Piper and she’s really coming along,” Johnson-Lynch said. “She’s really improving and showing great signs. She’s really improving her location – her blocking today was really good – and her confidence.”

Similar praise came for Herbst. 

“Josie is playing very, very well right now,” Johnson-Lynch added. “I think this is this the best I’ve seen her play since she’s been at Iowa State. Fans didn’t get to see her a ton last year, but she’s able to hit some shots from sharp angles that we don’t see a lot.”

With this spring marking the beginning of Johnson-Lynch’s 15th season, players are very familiar with what’s expected of them and big transitions tend to be rare.

While that’s still largely the case, this offseason nonetheless provided a major shakeup in the coaching staff when outside hitter’s coach Dawn Sullivan left to accept the head coaching position at UNLV. It will mark the first time in 14 years that Sullivan hasn’t been on the Iowa State sideline.

Replacing her on the staff is Fiona Fonoti, a former Big 12 Player of the Year, three-time All-Big 12 First Team and three-time AVCA All-America honoree from 1996-98 at the University of Nebraska.

A longtime friend of Johnson-Lynch from their playing days with the Huskers, Fonoti was most recently an assistant varsity girls coach at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, and personal setter coach at the Elite Setting Academy in Pearl City, Hawaii.

While there are certainly growing pains associated with replacing a coach who had been with the team for so long, the Cyclones’ head coach says the familiarly that the two share has certainly helped to make the transition easier.

“I tell people that I feel like I got divorced when Dawn left because we’ve been together 13 years,” Johnson-Lynch joked. “But Fiona has a wonderful personality, and one of the reasons I really did want to hire her was because I really knew what I was getting and I really liked what she had.

“She’s been all that I thought she would be and more.”

Additionally, the players themselves have also taken a liking to Fonoti’s infectious personality.

While senior Jess Schaben admitted that she was definitely upset to see Sullivan leave given all that she learned under her, she says that the early returns among the team have been nothing but positive for their new assistant coach.

“Fiona’s been a huge add-on to our team,” Schaben said. “She brings so much energy and we all just love her and we’ve known her for, like, five days. She knows so much about the setting game and she’s super knowledgeable about volleyball.”