Volleyball looks to learn consistency in off-season


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A team that was supposed to make the leap in 2010 actually took a step back. After two seasons that built up high expectations, the squad fell short of almost every goal it set for itself. And Hawkeye fans were disappointed.

No, these aren't the boys of fall in Kinnick, they are the women of autumn in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The volleyball Hawks thought they had a chance to make it to the NCAA Tournament at the beginning of the year, but instead, they finished at the bottom of the Big Ten with just two conference wins. And while this was certainly not a leap forward after notching at least five wins the last two seasons, the Hawkeyes feel they're on the right track to become an elite team in just a few years.

The biggest focus of the off-season will be intangibles. The coaches want to preach consistency from day-to-day and game-to-game after many road trips this year saw competitive games on Friday, only to be followed by an absolute blowout on Saturday.

"That's where I think [the young players on the team] need to grow up the most," head coach Sharon Dingman said. "It's every night that we compete, and it's every single practice."

Junior Megan Eskew, who will likely be a senior captain next season, expressed the same idea. With four freshmen this year and six recruits coming to campus, the always intense outside hitter wants to make sure her teammates know that there is no off-switch when it comes to training.

"It has to be every-day commitment," she said about the team's off-season mentality. "That's how we're going to get better. It's an every-day commitment on the court and off the court."

With the recruits joining the squad, Dingman is bringing in athletes who maybe have what this year's squad didn't: physicality.

The current team wasn't known for its athleticism this season, and Dingman said she didn't think the team played "physical" volleyball until perhaps the last three matches. All six new players, she says, aren't afraid to get on the floor.

"They will make an immediate impact in our gym," she said. "They are incredibly athletic."

Even more important than getting recruits who fit the mold of what Dingman wants is the quantity of the players coming in. Typically, this year's team had just 10 or 11 players available for practice — not even enough for a full scrimmage without coaches or practice players joining. Now, six more will don Hawkeye gear, meaning more practices and more competition for players who were always going to get a spot on the floor this season.

Perhaps the one who can speak most candidly about next season is the one player not returning from this season. As the only senior on the 2010 team, Becky Walters was concise in her prediction for the 2011 season, saying the squad won't fall short of its high expectations during next year's Big Ten grind.

Speaking after her final match, she said simply: "Next year will be better than this year."

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