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Iowa volleyball grows up

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | AUGUST 19, 2011 7:20 AM

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The NCAA volleyball coach's preseason rankings were released Monday, and Iowa was the only Big Ten team that didn't receive votes. Seven teams in the conference were ranked in the top 25, including No. 1 Penn State and newly added Nebraska at fifth.

Despite being the Big Ten's black sheep, head coach Sharon Dingman believes Iowa volleyball could leave behind its bottom rank in the conference this season.

The biggest factor that could lead the Hawkeyes to a better record is simply age. In 2010, Iowa's roster included only one senior, and four freshmen received regular playing time. This season, the team carries four seniors and a strong sophomore class.

"Every year of experience is definitely a benefit for everyone on the court," senior Megan Eskew said. "It's an advantage to have older players on the floor this year. Some games last year we had four freshmen on the floor, which is always a challenge, but it just got us better for this year."

Adding Nebraska as a conference competitor could separate the Big Ten from the Pac-12 as the country's most dominant volleyball conference, Dingman said. Facing the Cornhuskers is one more challenge for Iowa's squad, but the fourth-year coach said she believes her team can handle the highly ranked volleyball powerhouse.

The Hawkeyes have had their best preseason yet, including open gyms and conditioning practices organized by Eskew and supported by all the seniors leading by example and positive attitude.
Having more seniors than in years past has made a significant difference in the team's dynamic this year, Paige Stevens said. This year's four seniors is the most Iowa has had since 2008, and having more upperclassmen on the roster has changed the attitude of the team.

But with seniors Stevens and Mallory Husz recovering from off-season surgeries, the sophomore class will also take some of the responsibility to improve Iowa.

Sophomore Rachael Bedell started nearly every game for the Hawkeyes as a freshman in 2010 and finished directly under the upperclassmen in attacks, blocks, and kills, but she expects this season to bring even more success for her and the rest of her class.

"We have more experience, so we're more comfortable," she said. "Last year, everything was just a big shock and everything was so exciting, but this year, you know what you're doing, so it's more calm. It's like going back to home."

The change in team dynamic, attitude, and age will likely help the Hawkeyes improve last season's 7-22 season record and 2-18 conference mark, despite being in the country's toughest volleyball conference.

"You just have to get older, and we're going to be a little bit older," Dingman said. "We're still young but we're not going to have three freshmen on the floor this year. They could be sophomores, but they'll have a year under their belt, and that's huge. You've got to have some older players in the Big Ten to win."


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