The Iowa State volleyball team is a month into spring practice and will take part in its first tournament this weekend when they travel to Madison, Wis., to face Marquette, Northern Iowa and Wisconsin. The Cyclones, who went 16-15 overall and 9-11 in Big 12 play a year ago, return five starters from a squad that recorded the most Big 12 wins in school history and the most overall wins in over 10 years.
Head coach Christy Johnson took a few minutes to talk with Cyclones.com about the development of the team this spring.
Cyclones.com: How many practices are you allowed to have, both individual sessions and as a team?
Coach Johnson: This year we are allowed 38 days of spring team practice. We started team practice on Feb. 22 and will conclude with our home tournament on April 15, with one week off for spring break. Outside of team practice, we work with our players on an individual basis, which allows for two hours per week with only four players in the gym at one time.
Cyclones.com: How have the spring practices went to this point and what do you hope to accomplish through the rest of the spring?
Coach Johnson: Practice has been going really well and the Cyclones have been working very hard. The biggest challenge will be replacing our starting setter, Amanda Craig, from the last two seasons. I have been very impressed with Alyssa Gintant. She is a very steady, smart setter and she seems much more comfortable running the offense now than she did a few weeks ago.
We are playing with different lineups and having our players do some things
they might not normally do or haven't been asked to do up to this point. We are
working with Erin
Boeve on passing, hitting high balls and back row attacks to see if playing
her all around is an option. We are giving our outside hitters time at both
right side and left side just to see what our best lineup might be. We are also
having our defensive specialists play a variety of back row spots, again just to
look at options and see what our best lineup will be for the 2006 season.
Cyclones.com: Based on last season's performance, what are some of the things that you are focussing on in the practice sessions?
Coach Johnson: Statistically, our hitting percentage is the one thing that needs the most improvement from last season. We were seventh in the Big 12 in hitting percentage, we need to improve offensively in order for Iowa State to move up in the Big 12 standings next year. That is the major focus for us this spring.
Alyssa is working hard to make good decisions and get hitters in one-on-one situations. We are also keeping stats for our hitters everyday in practice so they can have feedback on how they are performing offensively.
Cyclones.com: How would you gauge the team's improvement since the end of the season?
Coach Johnson: Alyssa is doing a great job putting up hittable sets and our hitters are one-on-one a lot when we are passing well. In general, I feel we are a little better ball handling, we can scramble and have a non-setter step in and set the ball and still be okay. I think we've been more consistent in practice so far this spring than we were in the fall. Our players are learning what it means to work hard every single day, no matter how much sleep they had and no matter how they feel. Their effort has been great every day.
Cyclones.com: You return co-captain Nicole Lorenzen, who else has stepped into a leadership role?
Coach Johnson: Lorenzen is definitely our vocal leader but we also have physical leadership from our other seniors. I think Katie Jessen is poised to have her best season yet. She is playing with more confidence and is emerging as a terminator, she is unstoppable some days. Jesse Klein has raised her level of play. I think 2005 was tough for her because she had been out of the game for awhile, she needed some time to get back into shape and just needed reps, but she is back playing at the level she is capable of. Katie Churm, who was already an exceptional passer and defender, is getting even better and we are able to give her more responsibility passing and defending more court.
Cyclones.com: You also return five of the six starters for the second straight year, how big of an impact will that have on the team's success next year?
Coach Johnson: Returning so many starters is huge, we can't help but get better just because we'll be more experienced. These returners know what it's like to struggle and know what it's like to have success. They truly enjoyed the 2005 season and want the same or better for 2006.
Cyclones.com: Your spring schedule will provide some challenges with potential matches against five NCAA tournament teams. When making the schedule, what do you look for when choosing which tournaments to take part in?
Coach Johnson: We just want to play teams that will challenge us and will exploit our weaknesses. Spring is a chance to learn what we are not good at and what we need to work on so we are that much more prepared in the fall.