Once a Cyclone, Always a Champion
AMES -- Iowa State volleyball coach Christy Johnson-Lynch did not even hesitate when asked the question.
Where does Jess Schaben stack up among the best players in program history?
“I would say one of the all-time greats that we’ve had at Iowa State,” said Johnson-Lynch, who has guided the Cyclones to a 289-143 record and 12 trips to the NCAA Regional Tournament since taking over a struggling program 14 seasons ago.
Prior to Johnson-Lynch’s arrival, Iowa State had never had a player selected for AVCA All-America honors. The Cyclones have produced 13 All-Americans since, including Schaben, who recently completed her ISU career ranked fourth with 1,548 kills, 16th with 1,005 digs and just the third player in school history to reach both of those milestones.
But the accomplishments and allure of Schaben - a 6’2” senior outside hitter - are about much more than impressive numbers. The former Harlan Community High School star combines her competitive ferocity with a bubbly personality, a modest team-first attitude and an inner toughness that allowed her to play through the pain of an injured shoulder that eventually required surgery midway through her ISU career.
“She’s first of all just a wonderful person, so caring, a great teammate, but yet humble,” Johnson-Lynch said following Iowa State’s 3-1 home win over West Virginia on November 10. “If anyone had a right not to be humble it’s her, and in terms of character I couldn’t ask for anything more. She’s faced a lot of adversity - some things throughout the season, her surgery, lots of things that’s she’s been able to push through. She’s special... We’re going to miss her.”
Johnson-Lynch summed it up well: “She’s the ideal kid that you would want in your program, plus she’s so talented.”
ISU’s victory over West Virginia ignited a season-ending nine-match winning streak that propelled its final record to 21-13. The Cyclones missed qualifying for the NCAA Volleyball Championships for the first time since 2005, but instead made the most of their spot in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship tourney, dropping just two sets on their home floor while beating Drake, Bradley, North Texas, UNLV and Tulane for the NIVC title.
Schaben, playing in her 120th collegiate match, posted 14 kills and 10 digs in the championship game December 11 for her fifth straight double-double and the 20th of the season. She spiked a record 99 kills in the tournament to garner NIVC All-Tournament Team MVP honors.
It was a fitting finale for Schaben, who finished her high school volleyball career as the Class 4A All-Tournament Team captain on talented back-to-back state championship teams.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my volleyball career,” Schaben said. “Not very many teams get to end on a win and play in December. I was very blessed to end my high school [career] in the same way. I have loved being able to represent my town, my school and my state through volleyball and I’m very thankful for all the opportunities this sport has given me."
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