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Volleyball leaders set for success

BY MICHELE DANNO | AUGUST 21, 2009 7:07 AM

After a long summer of sprints, drills, and early practices, two members of the Iowa volleyball team particularly excelled as leaders on the court.

Over the last week and a half, all 17 women on the team’s roster were carefully evaluated by their teammates and coaches. On Monday, the team selected senior outside hitter Megan Schipper and junior setter Mara Hilgenberg to lead them through what they hope will be a breakout season for the program.

Schipper, who started all 32 games in 2008 and also served as a captain, said she has high expectations for both herself and the team.

“I hope to lead the team in kills,” said Schipper, who had 345 in 2008 — 35 fewer than graduated Hawkeye Catherine Smale, who led the team. “I also want to be upbeat and bring a lot of energy to the court.”

During Schipper’s reign as captain last year, the squad went 14-18, the most successful season since 2000.

Head coach Sharon Dingman said both Schipper’s leadership skills and outside hitting abilities are “mature.” And with this being the first season Schipper will be able to play through all six spots in the rotation, Dingman is expecting a lot out of her veteran player.

Teammate Mallory Husz, a sophomore middle blocker, said she is confident in Schipper’s ability to lead the team.

“Schipper is the leader on the court, and she is a leader off the court,” Husz said. “That’s what makes a great captain.”

Although Schipper enters this season with maturity and experience, Dingman said, Hilgenberg brings another aspect of leadership to the table.

“Mara is feisty,” Dingman said during a press conference at the team’s media day on Wednesday. “She’s very competitive, and the team respects what she brings to the court. I love her personality. She loves to get after it.”

Standing only 5-9, Hilgenberg still makes herself noticeable on the court with a pink stripe in her hair, which contrasts her natural dark-brown locks.

Even though Hilgenberg is a junior, this season will be her second year on the squad. After spending her freshman year as a member of the Indiana volleyball team, Hilgenberg made the switch to Iowa last season. She played in 19 matches for the Hawkeyes and finished with 152 assists — the second-most on the team behind former Hawkeye Kiley Fister, who had 1,020.

As a starter for the Hoosiers, Hildenberg played in all 117 sets and tallied 1,402 assists — the sixth-highest single-season total in school history.

Despite having spent only one season with Iowa, she said, she didn’t find it hard to believe that she was chosen as captain.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Hilgenberg said. “I’m ready to be captain, and I feel that I can lead my teammates on and off the court.”

Confidence aside, both Schipper and Hilgenberg are aware of the challenges they face as one of the smaller teams in the Big Ten.

Both said they have to play tough matches against such teams as Ohio State and two-time NCAA champion Penn State. But “feisty” Hilgenberg made it clear that she isn’t letting other teams’ size or success intimidate her.

“I take those games as a challenge,” she said. “But also as an opportunity to beat the best.”


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