ISU volleyball shows improvement in home tournament


Junior Branen Berta serves the ball during the game against North Dakota State University April 9. The Cyclones hosted the Iowa State Spring Volleyball Tournament, where they defeated the University of Iowa, NDSU, and Creighton. The Cyclones tied with the University of Northern Iowa. 

Curran Mclaughlin

The offseason can be different for many sports, but the wait is all the same.

For the fans, it can be hard to struggle through those cold, empty months while waiting for the regular season to start.

Saturday saw a bit of warmth for volleyball fans around Ames and the state of Iowa.

The ISU volleyball team hosted four teams, including in-state foes Iowa and Northern Iowa, for an all-day exhibition tournament.

Iowa State dominated the tournament, sweeping three opponents and splitting its match against Northern Iowa, 1-1. This is promising for an ISU team that has struggled in its earlier spring matches.

But winning isn’t just the only goal in exhibition play.

The game results don’t matter for statistics; Iowa State didn’t even keep track of stats in the tournament. Spring season is a time to identify and address issues.

“We’ve taken significant jumps each week,” said ISU volleyball coach Christy Johnson-Lynch.

One of Iowa State’s biggest areas of worry is improving its blocking on defense.

In games against Hawaii and Creighton, the Cyclones allowed both opponents to hit .270 against them. Johnson-Lynch said that was way too much.

“We wanted to be more organized on our block by communicating and talking about the play before and during the [play],” Johnson-Lynch said.

Throughout the day, Iowa State showed improvement in blocking and communication, especially in the front row. ISU middle blockers Alexis Conaway and Grace Lazard were there on almost every attack.

Lazard wreaked havoc on opponents all day not only defensively with blocking but also on offense by curving the ball into the wood or lightly tipping the ball over opponents’ blocks.

Lazard said Iowa State’s desired stats require team effort.

“Communication [is] the most important thing,” Lazard said.

Lazard said fixing the Cyclones’ problems on defense could be what sets them apart from the competition next fall.

“Those great teams out there have the blocking down,” Lazard said. “They have great blockers and it makes a big difference. “It’ll make a big difference to our game if we are able to implement [blocking] all the time.”

Despite the improvements, Iowa State could still make other adjustments to the defense as it leaves the tournament behind. A handful of ISU blocking attempts were unsuccessful or just out of position, letting the ball through.

The Cyclones also struggled to make reads after block attempts. Opponents were able to get the dig off of the block several times and then go on to record the kill in Iowa State’s back row.

“If the front row is talking, then it helps the back row, and vice versa, and it helps us come together as a team and get a handle on the ball,” said Branen Berta.

Berta, along with Abby Phillips, is a candidate for Iowa State’s coveted libero position in the fall. Berta said part of a libero’s job is to push the communication, which she finds to be one of the most important aspects of the game.

Johnson-Lynch hopes to push the communication and blocking further as the spring season comes to a close.

During practices, Johnson-Lynch forces the team to communicate about the play before even blowing the ready whistle. Johnson-Lynch said Iowa State will continue to focus on improved blocking.

“We’re not done,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We made some nice jumps on our block. We just need to be a little bit sharper.”