AMES — She’s felt the nerves as a first-time NCAA Tournament player.
She’s strained against the world’s best competition as a 2020 Olympian for her native Argentina.
So when Iowa State’s standout middle blocker Candelaria Herrera faces storied Stanford in Friday’s 4:30 p.m. first-round NCAA matchup in Minneapolis, she’ll be calm and unfazed.
That’s the plan, anyway.
“Stanford is no more than Texas or Baylor, so I think we have the experience to play against them,” said Herrera, a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection. “So I think it’s just giving our all, playing as a team, and playing for us.”
The Cyclones (16-11) will make their 15th tournament appearance, with 14 of those trips coming in head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch’s 17-season tenure.
She said having players as talented as Herrera in her lineup always gives ISU a chance, but she’s got plenty of help.
People are also reading…
“We have a couple people like that,” Johnson-Lynch said. “And we have a team like that. I think we’ve shown in our good nights, when we’ve really played well, I think we can hang with anybody. We can beat anyone. We haven’t always put it together every night and we’ve had our share of challenges, and COVID’s thrown a couple curveballs at us, but I think we have the potential to beat anyone on any given night. To me, that’s what’s exciting.”
ISU’s margin for error remains razor-thin.
The Cardinal (18-10) owns nine national championship trophies and despite some struggles early this season, enters the tournament on a five-match win streak.
“They’re just very physical, especially their pin players,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Their outsides on the right side are getting a lot of sets and they’re killing the ball a lot, so no question we have a huge task ahead of us and we’re gonna have to play really, really well.”
Just as it should be in the tournament — and the Cyclones feature several talented and physical players, as well.
Graduate transfer Marija Popovic was named the Big 12’s Libero of the Year. Senior outside hitter Eleanor Holthaus is just the third ISU player in program history to earn first-team All-Big 12 accolades three times.
She’s explosive (3.21 kills per set), dependable (2.58 digs per set) and versatile — a combination of talents that have helped the Cyclones navigate a challenging season.
“Eleanor’s had a terrific season,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We just switched her from a right side to a left side recently. That’s a huge thing and she’s embraced that.”