Last season wasn’t easy to swallow for members of the Iowa State volleyball team.
The Cyclones had made the NCAA tournament a dozen years in a row but they came up just short in their quest to make it 13 straight. They recovered nicely to win the NIVC — volleyball’s answer to basketball’s NIT — but it just wasn’t the same.
In the words of outside hitter Josie Herbst, it was “heart-breaking.’’
Herbst, a former Bettendorf star, was determined that it wouldn’t happen again in her final season in an ISU uniform. The Cyclones have bounced back this season, thanks in large part to her influence as the only senior on the team.
“This team is awesome,’’ said Herbst, who was the Iowa Class 5A player of the year at Bettendorf in 2015. “Everyone comes in and works hard every day. We all want to be here and keep fighting and get better and make it to the NCAA because last year we did not make it through to the NCAA and that was heart-breaking. So we just want to keep fighting and our goal is to make it back to the NCAA.’’
ISU is in good position to do that with a 17-8 record (8-5 in the Big 12) with three matches to go.
Herbst admits she has had no problem adjusting to the leadership role that has been thrust upon her this season.
“I had to step in and take that role, make sure everyone’s excited and everyone’s working hard and everyone’s working together,’’ she said.
“I think it’s come natural,’’ she added. “I’m very vocal and I tell people how it is, which can be a good thing and not a good thing sometimes. I think it’s come pretty natural.’’
The 5-foot-10 Herbst began her college career at UNLV, where she joined a team that included former high school teammate Caitlin Wernentin. Herbst played in only four matches in 2016, then transferred to Iowa State the following spring.
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She said she just wanted to get back closer to home and she didn’t have a difficult time deciding that the best place to do that was Iowa State.
“I really liked the coaches and the facilities here are awesome,’’ she said. “I was looking between here and the University of Iowa but I didn’t even take my visit to Iowa because I felt like Iowa State fit me better.’’
Herbst played in only seven matches in 2017, but has been a cornerstone of the Cyclones’ efforts the past two years.
She is third on the team in kills this season, behind two younger frontline players she has mentored — sophomore Elizabeth Holthaus and freshman Annie Hatch.
ISU coach Christy Johnson-Lynch has been impressed with how Herbst has diversified her game this season, adding different types of shots to her repertoire.
“She’s just growing as a senior,” Johnson-Lynch said following an early-season victory over South Dakota. “I think she’s ready to take on more.”
Herbst said the highlight of her career came last summer when the Cyclones took a trip to Argentina, where junior middle blocker Candelaria Herrera is from. It not only was a chance to travel overseas and spend time with teammates but also an opportunity to experience the culture in which Herrera grew up.
Herbst said it’s hard for her to believe she has only a handful of matches left in her college career.
The Cyclones go on the road this week to face Texas Tech and Kansas, two teams just below them in the standings. Then they come home for senior night on Nov. 30 against the No. 1-ranked team in the country, Texas.
The Cyclones won the second of four games at Texas on Sept. 25 and were close in the games they lost. Herbst had one of her best matches that day, recording a team-high 15 kills.
“I think we’re all pretty excited,’’ she said. “We’re just really excited to be able to prove to them and everyone else what we have.’’