Jess Schaben spent six months away from volleyball following shoulder surgery. Now she's back, healthy as ever. John Naughton/The Register
AMES, Ia. — Iowa State's Jess Schaben spent six months away from volleyball while recovering from a shoulder injury.
This season, the pain is gone and the attack is back.
"It was frustrating," Schaben said of her downtime caused by a torn labrum. "I'm a hitter. I want to hit the ball."
The preseason all-Big 12 Conference selection hopes to lead the Cyclones back to the NCAA tournament for the 12th consecutive season.
Iowa State will host Northern Iowa at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hilton Coliseum. UNI also qualified for the NCAA tournament last season, earning the school's 20th overall trip.
The Cyclones are 7-0 and are ranked No. 19 in Monday's AVCA Coaches' Poll. Schaben slammed a match-high 17 kills in Friday's 3-1 win at Iowa before 3,136 fans.
Iowa State has shown a potent offense this season. Samara West leads the team with a 2.90 kill average. Schaben is at 2.46; Grace Lazard has a 2.42 average per set.
"We are so physical," Iowa State coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. "We are a great-looking, physically imposing team."
The Cyclones have depth, too. Senior Monique Harris and freshman Piper Mauck have both spent time at setter.
"It just allows you to do so many different things," Harris said.
Mauck, a Des Moines Roosevelt graduate, finished high school early and joined the team last spring. Harris, who is from Clinton, served as a mentor.
"She was a really good guide for me," Mauck said. "It's kind of a dynamic duo for now."
Northern Iowa volleyball coach Bobbi Petersen discusses her team, which qualified for the NCAA tournament last year. John Naughton / The Register
Bobbi Petersen is looking for an identity from her team.
The Panthers, who are off to a 7-3 start, have a lot of returning talent. But the players are sorting out their roles this fall.
"We're finding out what type of team we're going to be," Petersen said.
Karlie Taylor, a sophomore, has delivered a strong attack so far. She's averaging 4.18 kills per set. Piper Thomas (3.61 kills) and Bri Weber (2.97) are outstanding hitters as well.
"We've got a lot of new people stepping into roles," Weber said.
Three starters graduated from last year's team. Four newcomers and seven returning non-starters, including Taylor, are back.
Northern Iowa has just one senior, setter Heather Hook.
She has taken on the role of the team's most experienced player.
"The team calls me grandma," Hook said.
Northern Iowa has received votes in the AVCA coaches' poll. The Panthers have beaten currently No. 18-ranked Southern California. Two of the team's losses have come to ranked opponents.
The Hawkeyes' non-conference report card so far shows an 8-2 record, with two losses coming to top-25 teams.
But can the momentum continue through the Big Ten season?
Iowa will play in what is likely the country's toughest conference. Eight league schools are ranked in the AVCA Top 25, including No. 1 Minnesota, No. 2 Penn State and No. 5 Wisconsin.
It will take a strong performance to earn an NCAA berth, like Iowa State and Northern Iowa have done regularly in recent years.
"I think this team is special," senior libero Annika Olsen told the Iowa City Press-Citizen's Dargan Southard. "We have a lot more depth this year at every position than we've had before, and I really think that helps us, knowing that we have so many different players who can contribute in different areas. I think we all have really just bought into the culture that Bond has been working so hard to create these past few years."
Junior Taylor Louis, a transfer from Marquette, leads the Hawkeyes with a 3.38 kill average.
The Hawkeyes graduated three starters from last season.
Iowa will try to springboard from the Big Ten to postseason play.
"You get into the NCAA Tournament as a Big Ten team," Iowa coach Bond Shymansky said, "and you have a right to think about being in the Final Four and winning a national title. That's because every night you're competing against national-title caliber teams in the Big Ten."
Iowa lost to Stanford and Iowa State. Both were NCAA qualifiers last season.
Senior Kyla Inderski realizes how little time she has left before her volleyball career ends.
Inderski, who arrived at Drake three years ago, is determined to finish her career with notable team achievements.
"It's the final year to reach our goal," said Inderski, a four-year starter. "Every year, we've made a step up. Hopefully, it's a lasting impression."
Inderski has averaged more than three kills per set in helping the Bulldogs to an 8-3 start.
She and fellow outside hitter Odessa Cody are the team's only seniors.
"They've been so instrumental in building this program since they were freshmen," Drake coach Darrin McBroom said.
Freshman Emily Plock is third on the team with an average of 2.50 kills. She's a Southeast Polk graduate who's quickly adjusting to the college game.
"The speed is definitely a big difference," Plock said.
Plock said she was struck by the bonds the players share.
"We really do love each other," Plock said. "You've got to love each other off and on the court."
Drake will play at Northern Iowa Oct. 17 and will host the Panthers Nov. 18.