There's plenty new for the Iowa State volleyball team as it heads into the 2014 season. For one, the team tries to replace an All-American libero, a talented setter and an all-conference performer.
But there are still some constants on the court for the Cyclones, starting with junior Mackenzie Bigbee and senior Victoria Hurtt.
The pair helped lead the Cyclones to another NCAA tournament appearance last season and returns to lead a young team to, they hope, even greater heights.
Bigbee is back after a sophomore campaign that saw her garner All-American honorable mention status as she averaged 3.21 kills per set and had a hitting percentage of .256. But those impressive numbers now serve as a baseline for her production.
"Everything's just got to be a little bit better, a little bit more from her," coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said Tuesday at the team's annual media day. "I thought attack-wise, she was good. Last year, her stats were good. She was solid, but we want her to be an All-American so her hitting efficiency needs to continue to go up and she needs to be able to take over matches.
"We saw that from her at times, but we want that from here even more this year."
It's that aggressive and vocal leadership that Bigbee has been trying to coax out of her mild-mannered personality since she arrived in Ames.
"You have to really be willing to step out of your comfort zone," Bigbee said. "It helps me when [coaches] tell me that kind of stuff and I'm like, 'OK, I really need to work on that.'
"It's just about doing what's best for the team and that's what's best for the team, so it doesn't matter if it's comfortable for me to do it or not. I just have to really work on that."
Hurtt is looking to return to form after she earned All-American honorable mention accolades as a sophomore before a junior season in which she only was an All-Big 12 honorable mention selection.
"I'm going to play with a chip on my shoulder because that's something I want to embrace," she said. "I want to have the same year I did a couple years ago, or even better than that, actually."
At her best, Hurtt is a destructive offensive force.
"When she gets rolling, she's a terminator and she's incredibly competitive," Johnson-Lynch said. "What I've found with Hurtt is that we need to make sure everybody around her does their job very well, and she'll excel at her role. Which means we have to ballhandle and put her in position to be able to kill the ball and give her a nice, consistent set every time and she'll take over a match."
Coming off a season that didn't unfold the way Hurtt or the team, which suffered a first-round NCAA tournament exit, hoped for only fuels the desire this year.
"I think this is a huge season for her," Johnson-Lynch said. "I don't think last year's season went the way she wanted it to, both individually and as a team. I know she wants a lot more than that. I know she feels some pressure to make that happen, but that's OK. That's where we want her to be and I know she wants a lot more than what she had last year. I think she's ready. She's pretty hungry."
Hurtt will also be stepping into more of a leadership position this year.
"Christy sat me down," Hurtt said, "and we had a couple conversations and she said, 'This is a role that I need you to take on and help the younger people understand what it means to be great every single day.' "
The Cyclones will need that senior leadership as they rely on a bevy of underclassmen while still seeking that elusive first conference title.
"That's what we're working toward, that's what we're talking about," Johnson-Lynch said, "and that's something we've talked about the last couple years. It hasn't become a reality yet."