Programs in many sports get reputations for producing many elite level student-athletes at particular positions. At Iowa State, the position that has stood out has been libero as ISU’s libero’s have earned an AVCA All-America honor and the Big 12 Libero of the Year award the last six years (#LiberoU). Another position that has stood out at Iowa State has been the setter, as head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch has used her background as an All-American and national championship winning setter to help build the Iowa State program.
Friday’s match between Iowa State and No. 3 Stanford is intriguing because it features two of the best setting coaches in the country in Johnson-Lynch and Stanford’s head coach John Dunning.
The foundation of the turnaround of Iowa State volleyball in Johnson-Lynch’s first nine seasons at Iowa State has been the setter and libero positions. It is easier for struggling programs to quickly find high-quality student-athletes at setter and libero because each team has one and very few rotate at either position. If you want to play, you have to find schools. By bringing in Johnson-Lynch, the setter for Nebraska’s 1995 National Championship squad, the Cyclones had a great setting coach and name in the volleyball community to sell to recruits.
In Johnson-Lynch’s tenure, Iowa State has already produced two multiple-time All-America setters in Kaylee Manns and Alison Landwehr. Manns was one of the foundation players for the rise of Iowa State volleyball, and a face for the early days of Cyclone success from 2006-09. Landwehr was a fruits of the labor kind of player, a high-level setter out of high school that the pre-Kaylee Manns ISU would have probably not had a shot at, but the Cyclones were able to get in on now. Then there was the success ISU experienced with Landwehr at the helm, a Regional Final and a Regional Semifinal as she earned AVCA First Team All-America honors in 2011. Suzanne Horner will be taking the reins of the Iowa State offense in 2014, and Johnson-Lynch has already liked what she has seen out of the sophomore transfer.
As for John Dunning of Stanford, in his over 30 years of head coaching work at the collegiate level with Stanford and, previously, Pacific, he has had seven setters earn All-America honors. At Pacific, where he guided the Tigers to the 1985 and 1986 NCAA titles, Dunning inherited a great setting school as the Tigers had just had three-time First Team All-American Jan Saunders graduate the year before he arrived. Dunning’s first two setters, Liz Hert and Melanie Beckenhauer were both two-time All-Americans. Near the end of his Pacific run in the mid-1990s, Dunning produced another two All-America setters in Sacha Caldemeyer and Kara Gormsen.
When Dunning went to Stanford in 2001, he inherited another great setting school with multiple All-America setters in its history. Interestingly, it was not until after he had won his two national titles at Stanford, in 2001 and 2004, that he had his first All-America setter with the Cardinal in Bryn Kehoe in 2005. After earning three All-America honors for Kehoe, it was Cassidy Litchman who earned two All-America honors running the Stanford offense. Last season was Stanford’s latest All-America setter in Madi Bugg, who earned Second Team honors. Bugg will be at Hilton Coliseum Friday night running the Cardinal offense.
The value of a great setter cannot be understated. While it is possible to win a national title without a great one, it is very difficult. The theme of the end of the college volleyball season last year was the value of the setter. A lot of credit for Penn State’s national title went to their First Team All-America setter Micha Hancock, who was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and Wisconsin was carried to the national title match by a stud freshman setter in Lauren Carlini.
So when you are at Hilton Coliseum on Friday night (buy your tickets here), and you are impressed by the outstanding play of the setters for both squads, give the credit to the coaches who value having great setters in their programs.