Jess Schaben: A necessary ‘terminator’ for ISU volleyball


Brian Mozey/Iowa State Daily

Freshman outside hitter Jess Schaben goes up for the spike on the opposite side of the net, while two other players try to block it during the Cardinal and Gold scrimmage match on Aug. 22. 

Kevin Horner

A new terminator has risen in the ranks of the ISU volleyball team, and she’s only played in three collegiate matches.

Outside hitter Victoria Hurtt graduated in the spring of 2015. Junior outside hitter Ciara Capezio, who led Iowa State in kills last season — recording just three more kills than Hurtt — left the season-opening match against Dayton with an ankle injury.

Fortunately for the Cyclones, it was in that same match that freshman outside hitter Jess Schaben made her collegiate debut.

Schaben, a native of Defiance, Iowa, had an immediate impact on the short-handed ISU volleyball squad, registering 11, nine and 14 kills in her first three matches, respectively. As unsuspecting as many onlookers may have been, to Schaben’s teammates, this performance came as no surprise.

“[Schaben] has been killing it throughout the preseason, defensively and offensively,” senior Mackenzie Bigbee said before Schaben’s performance at the Cyclone Invitational. “She’s been doing great.”

Schaben’s performance on the court thus far is a testament to the eye-popping résumé she brought with her to Iowa State. She was the No. 27 recruit in the country, a four-time All-Conference and All-State selection and a four-time Southwest Iowa Player of the Year.

Her teammates say Schaben exudes confidence and determination on the court. Once she locks in on her target, all it takes is a jump and a swing.

“She gets kills all the time,” said redshirt junior Morgan Kuhrt. “She can hit every shot, every angle.”

Schaben is also in no way challenged when it comes to physical disposition. She stands at 6 feet 2 inches — the same height of alumnus Victoria Hurtt. Combine Schaben’s mental focus and determination with her physical abilities and, naturally, the result is an all-around successful volleyball player.

Because of this natural ability, not only has Schaben left fans inside Hilton Coliseum in awe of her talent, but her teammates have also had trouble fully comprehending what this young outside hitter can accomplish with a volleyball in her hand.

“You think you may have a kill, and then, all of a sudden, [Schaben’s] arm pops out of nowhere and hits the ball,” Bigbee said. “She’s a force to be reckoned with and a big player on this team for this season.”

In high school, Schaben did more than just dominate the volleyball court. She also claimed First Team All-State honors in basketball. Schaben led the Harlan basketball team to a 52-game winning streak, winning two consecutive Class 4A state titles in 2014 and 2015 — the same two years Harlan claimed consecutive volleyball state championships.

Schaben fell just 17 points short of 1,000 and recorded 338 blocked shots during her 99-game basketball career at Harlan. This athletic versatility led to her being named the 2015 Des Moines Register Female High School Athlete of the Year — a title previously held by sophomore Alexis Conaway in 2014 and Bigbee in 2012.

Despite her multi-sport success, especially in her final two years of high school, Schaben had long ago made up her mind as to which path she would pursue.

“I always liked volleyball a lot more than basketball,” Schaben said. “Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to play college volleyball.”

The Harlan Cyclone became an Iowa State Cyclone and has already stepped into a prominent role within ISU coach Christy Johnson-Lynch’s scheme. But the transition did not come as naturally as it may appear. 

Schaben, for the majority of her volleyball career, played middle blocker. When introduced to Johnson-Lynch’s system, she shifted to outside hitter, assuming the position once held by Hurtt, a two-time All-Big 12 honoree.

“We’ve decided to train [Schaben] as [a] left-side [hitter] because we feel like she’s got a big arm,” Johnson-Lynch said. “She reminds me a lot of Hurtt. As I watched her, I thought, ‘She really fits the mold.'”

As the evidence from the opening three matches attests, Schaben has adapted to her new role smoothly, accumulating 10 more kills thus far than any other ISU attacker. Her performance helped fuel two victories during the Cyclone Invitational despite the shorthanded roster.

Johnson-Lynch made it clear at media day Aug. 19 that Iowa State, now unranked, will need go-to hitters, especially when the team matches up across from the deadly “Texas block” of the No. 3 ranked Longhorns.

Schaben’s coach and teammates hope she can emerge as a go-to attacker when the Cyclones are in desperate need of a kill — a role Schaben has already displayed she can assume.

“Big arm, great competitor and excellent ball handler,” Johnson-Lynch said. “She is already like a terminator for us.”

And like the Terminator, even following her freshman season, Schaben will be back … for three more years.