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Hawkeye volleyball set to face ISU in Ames

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | SEPTEMBER 02, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa volleyball team prepares for the Iowa State Challenge in Ames this weekend, and even though the team is 1-2, it isn’t thinking about its record.

Instead, the Hawkeyes are focusing on their performance and whether they improve with each game.

Iowa will play Arizona at 10 a.m. today and Southern Mississippi at 4:30 p.m. On Saturday, the Black and Gold will kick off the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series when it competes against No. 19 Iowa State at 2 p.m.

Nonconference games are crucial for the Hawkeyes, who haven’t had a winning conference record since 1994. With its eyes on the NCAA Tournament — which requires a .500 overall record to qualify — the Hawks know the nonconference games are must-wins in order to make it to the tournament in November.

With two losses already, head coach Sharon Dingman knows the stakes are high; however, she isn’t worried about whether her team will return from the in-state matches with a losing record.

“This is the second weekend of the season, so we can’t look at it with total doom and gloom at all,” Dingman said. “It’s hard to know [how well we’d have to do in nonconference games] because you obviously can’t predict what’s going to happen in the Big Ten. What I do know is that every single match brings a sense of urgency and a some pressure. We understand that every weekend is really important.”

The Hawkeyes’ adrenaline is building as the squad prepares for the Iowa State game. The in-state rivalry brings a good kind of pressure, and instead of buckling under with nerves, the Hawkeyes use the pressure to get fired up.

“Competition motivates me the most out of all things,” sophomore setter Nikki Dailey said. “I get pumped up as soon as I see the other team. Being ranked and being such a good team as Iowa State is supposed to be, I am pumped for that.”

Iowa State enters the tournament with a 3-0 record, including two wins in three sets. To prepare, the Hawkeyes have been scouting the Cyclones’ recruiting and in-game strategies and have devoted entire practices to different aspects of the upcoming games.

“It’s definitely a game we want to win,” senior and Iowa native Tiffany Nilges said. “It’s in-state, so it shows who has a better volleyball program in the state. We want to win, so it makes you step your game up to their level.”

Nilges and Dailey agreed that the team as a whole isn’t anxious because of the hype — the players instead are looking forward to the game because of the high expectations and increased competition.

Dingman saw improvement during each game of the Hawkeye Challenge on Aug. 26-27. She said she’ll be satisfied if the team continues to improve with every match, regardless of wins or losses.

Dailey and Nilges both said they expect to improve in every match and end the tournament playing their best against the Cyclones. Between the extra sets of experience and the high emotional charge attached to the rivalry, the Hawkeyes hopes the Iowa State game will bump them to the next level of volleyball.

“In games like these, your whole demeanor is different,” Dailey said. “It’s special. It’s like you’re more confident because you’re more pumped up. It’s like you’re playing the big boys now, so you’re in the big time.”


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