Volleyball uses spring season to give younger players experience

BY IAN MARTIN | MARCH 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa volleyball team played not one but two matches on March 26 in the Field House South Gym to kick off its non-competitive spring season. While the results of the games themselves were positive — the Hawkeyes defeated Truman State and Western Illinois in two three-set exhibitions — there were notable absences in the team’s lineup that could be alarming.

Seniors-to-be Mallory Husz and Paige Stevens were not in uniform because of injuries and subsequent surgeries.

Husz, a middle blocker, is still recovering from a nagging shoulder injury. Stevens also had surgery for a hip injury and just began walking without crutches in the last few days. Both women said that they hope to be 100 percent by July, in time to start summer practice.

And while no team wants two of its most experienced players on the bench, it may not be the worst thing for the team in the spring season — which is typically used to get experience for newer players on the team.

The largest benefactor of her team’s injuries has to be setter Nikki Dailey. During her freshman season in 2010, the Franklin, Wis., native was the team’s second option at setter. But with Stevens injured, Dailey will get as many sets as possible this spring as the team’s only healthy setter.

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“It’s not great having Mal or Paige out,” head coach Sharon Dingman said. “But for Nikki, who didn’t get to set a whole lot this fall, she’s getting every contact for the spring. That’s awesome.”

Players agreed that while there’s often not a positive in a teammate’s injuries, at least the timing of these particular ailments aren’t terrible.

“It obviously sucks that we don’t have them, but I think it’s good to be able to get other people onto the court,” freshman outside hitter Rachael Bedell said. “It’s a blessing in disguise.”

Others seeing more time because of the injuries are the team’s newest players, Emily Yanny and Grace Burns. The freshmen have taken different paths to get to Iowa City — Burns transferred from Grand Valley State after one season, and Yanny enrolled at Iowa this semester after graduating from high school early.

Both seemed to be comfortable while seeing limited action in the March 26 matches, especially considering the change in level of play that the two were used to.

“It’s much different, it took some getting used to in the beginning,” Burns said about moving from Division-II to Division-I volleyball, citing the pace of the game and the increased time commitment.

The team will see four more recruits alongside Burns and Yanny come to Iowa City in the fall, meaning the team will continue to grow in size after losing just one senior this past year.

If both Burns and Yanny are any indication, the team is gaining the type of players who will turn the program around after three-straight seasons of rebuilding under Dingman.

Yanny especially seemed to be the buzz of the gym, because she was playing her first college match when most her age would be worrying about a high-school exam.

“Emily is supposed to be a senior in high school — she’s missing all that,” Bedell said. “I have a lot of respect for her coming this early because I don’t know if I could’ve done it.”

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