It wasn't exactly clear what Candelaria Herrera was getting into when she left Iowa State last spring to return home to Argentina to try out for the country's national team.
"We thought, you might be the eighth middle on that roster," Cyclone coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. "You might make the starting lineup. You're going to be a junior in college, you're competing against women who are 23, 24, 25 or maybe even older. I don't know if this is going to happen for you, but let's go give it a try."
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Not only did Herrera make the roster, but played in 18 matches, helping the team, known as Las Panteras, to its first-ever medal — a bronze — at the Pan-American Games.
"It was great," Herrera said Wednesday ahead of her junior season at Iowa State. "It was very fun to be able to represent my country again."
Iowa State junior middle blocker Candelaria Herrera’s time this summer with the Argentina National Team came to a close this weekend with a 3rd place finish at the Pan Am Games! #NCAAVB | @CycloneVB pic.twitter.com/m0bCK6W6TP— NCAA Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) August 12, 2019
The experience allowed Herrera to go against the world's best.
"It was a high level. We were playing against big countries — United States, Bulgaria, Brazil," she said. "It was good because we were able to play against them many times in different tournaments. To be able to play against those high-level teams makes you improve as a team.
"Right now, we're still trying to get to that level. We've got a lot of work, but we're getting there."
To get to that point, though, was a lot of work for Herrera, a 6-foot-1 middle blocker.
"May was very hard for her," Johnson-Lynch said. "Getting back down there, we're all on vacation, she's back down there training again, and she grinded it out and earned a starting spot on their national team. For a really good team."
Herrera had 180 kills as a sophomore, but it was her 111 blocks that truly showed her potential and skill.
"Candy has the potential to be one of the best blockers in the nation," Johnson-Lynch said. "Her block is special."
It's a combination of mentality, physicality and technique that makes Herrera so effective at the net.
"She's pretty relentless," Johnson-Lynch said. "Blockers have to just never quit. Even if you get caught a little bit, you're still going to recover and try to get up on the block. She's really good at that. She's physical. She's fast and she jumps well.
"If you were to snap a picture of her blocking, you'd see armpits over the net where some of our other blockers might be mid-arm. You will see literally her armpits over the net, so that means the hitter on the other side has no room to hit, has no angles. All those things put together make her a great blocker."
It's a skill that has carried Herrera her entire career.
"Block," she said, "is my thing."
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Now, with national team experience, Herrera is looking to be even more of a nuisance for opposing hitters.
"Any time a player does that, they typically come back and they're different," Johnson-Lynch said of Herrera's international experience. "They're a lot better. They've just been challenged to play at such a high level. I expect her to have a big season."
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