Iowa State got stronger as the 2017 season went on. For that matter, the Cyclones finished 22-7 overall and, at 11-5 in the Big 12, had only losses to the league’s ranked teams, Texas (twice), Baylor (twice) and Kansas in conference play.
“We’ve had better seasons, we’ve had worse, so it was kind of in the middle for us,” said Christy Johnson-Lynch, who will start her 14th year at the helm in 2018.
“It was an enjoyable group to coach. I don’t know that we exceeded expectations, but we got pretty close.”
Iowa State swept Princeton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament but then got swept by Wisconsin to end their season.
The Cyclones lost four seniors, perhaps most significantly setter Monique Harris, who ran a 5-1, and middle Alexis Conaway, who was third in kills (2.38/set) and second in blocks (1.05/set).
But leading attack Jess Schaben (3.2 kills/set), who was second in digs (.307/set), returns for her senior year. Also back are senior middle Grace Lazard, middle (2.37 kills per set, team-best 119 blocks and 16 aces), and junior libero Hali Hillegas (5.59 digs/set).
“We return a great core,” said Johnson-Lynch, 268-130 since taking over in 2005, 152-80 in the Big 12. “The biggest question mark will be setter. We have a sophomore setter who’s very talented, Piper Mauck, and we have a really nice freshman coming in, Jenna Brandt.
“No matter who’s out there I feel like we’ll be in good shape.”
Brandt, from Sumner, Iowa, was one of four signees of a very Midwestern class. Also joining the Cyclones are outside Brooke Anderson, from Waukesha, Wisc.; DS Taylor Baranski, from Channahon, Ill.; and outside/setter Eleanor Holthaus, from Richmond, Minn.
“I think all four of our freshmen could play,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Eleanor Holthaus is the one who’s probably going to surprise some people. She’s a beast and plays a little bit of everything.
“I think they could all contribute. We lose a lot, so there’s a lot of opportunity.”
Texas won the league at 16-0, Baylor (13-3) finished second and ISU and Kansas were both 11-5. There was a big gap to fifth, where an improved West Virginia team finished 6-10.
“I think the Big 12 is a very tough league, especially on the road,” Johnson-Lynch said. “You saw this year that anybody could win any time.
“It’s a very good league with a lot of good coaches. The new coach at Oklahoma (former Kentucky assistant Lindsey Gray-Walton) will do well. Baylor is taking huge strides, West Virginia is making strides, Texas Tech, they’re all well-coached.”