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Volleyballers seek to net gains

BY MICHELE DANNO | AUGUST 20, 2009 7:05 AM

“New,” “different,” and “improvement” were the words used by Iowa head volleyball coach Sharon Dingman during her press conference at the team’s media day in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday.

“I think this team is just coming into this season with a completely different mindset than last year,” she said. “I think their fitness and athleticism will make us look different.”

Last season was Dingman’s first as at the helm of the Hawkeye volleyball program, and she helped the team accomplish something it hadn’t since 2000 — win 14 games in a season.

Senior outside hitter Megan Schipper and junior setter Mara Hilgenberg, the team’s cocaptains, said their coach has made positive changes in the program in the last year, and they noted that practices mimic in-game scenarios.

“Since Sharon got here, we have worked our tails off every single day in practice,” Schipper said. “I think we’ve improved a lot, and the whole atmosphere here has changed, too.”

Dingman said her new strategy is to be more physically prepared than the other teams because she is aware that her women are smaller than many of their Big Ten competitors. Aside from redshirt junior middle blocker Becky Walters, at 6-3, only five other players are 6 feet or taller. The 11 remaining women range from 5-11 to 5-6.

“We certainly are undersized in almost every position, and we understand that we need to be the most fit team in the conference,” Dingman said. “I love our speed on the court, and our level of fitness is going to play into it. You need to be physical to play in the Big Ten.”

Schipper agreed with her coach, saying the team needs to improve on defense in order to stay competitive.

To cover the Big Ten’s powerhouse hitters, Iowa’s squad has five defensive specialists. But Dingman said she has yet to choose a libero, who is traditionally the most skilled defensive player on the team.

“Three of our five [defensive specialists] have been competing for libero,” Dingman said. “We want to settle that because we don’t want to be changing them every match. I need to see the consistency in one.”

There has also been competition between sophomore Paige Stevens and Hilgenberg for a starting position at setter. Dingman said both are good at the position, and she is considering running a 6-2 offense to utilize them together.

Besides a new attitude and playing strategy, the Hawkeyes have some new faces on the squad.

The coaching staff added an assistant, Ben Boldt, who spent the last two years as an assistant at Alabama and five years assisting at Nebraska.

Four freshmen also contribute to the “newness” Dingman addressed: middle blocker Lauren Friedman, defensive specialist Jordanne LeTourneau, and outside hitters Emma Krieger Kittle and Allison Straumann. Dingman said she has been impressed by the effort put forth by the young players.

Stevens said that with all of these changes and improvements, the Hawks’ goal is to finish higher in the Big Ten. In 2008, Iowa finished ninth with a 14-18 overall record, winning six of 14 Big Ten contests.

The Hawkeyes open their season on Aug. 28 when they compete in the Loyola Invitational in Chicago.

“Were really focusing on the more technical aspect of our game, hoping to finish higher in the conference than last year,” Stevens said. “Because we’re the smaller team, we have to focus more on being technical than being a powerhouse.”


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