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Iowa volleyball to face the Big Ten

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | SEPTEMBER 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Big Ten volleyball is "really good," Iowa volleyball head coach Sharon Dingman said.

Iowa will see two of those "really" good teams this weekend; the Hawkeyes will open the Big Ten season against Ohio State at 7 p.m. today and Penn State at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Along with five other conference schools, the No. 24 Buckeyes and No. 5 Nittany Lions are sitting toward the top of the NCAA volleyball.

Although the Hawkeyes finished their nonconference play with a 10-3 record (the Hawks finished nonconference only 5-4 in 2010), they're still going to see a drastic change in the level of competition this weekend, Dingman said.

But they're not nervous.

"I've been here for three years now, so I really know to expect the change," senior captain Tiffany Nilges said. "The other people who haven't been here and haven't gone through it, we're just trying to tell them that it's going to be a lot harder to continue to play well because these teams are at a higher level. But most of us know what to expect, so we're not scared."

Four of Iowa's six freshmen have been receiving significant playing time, including regular starters Alex Lovell at outside hitter and Kari Mueller at defensive specialist. Middle blockers Emily Yanny and Erin Leppek also had frequent minutes during the nonconference season.

The freshmen have never seen anything like Big Ten volleyball before, Dingman said. Thanks to the upperclassmen, though, the freshmen understand the drastic change in the level of competition they'll see this weekend.

"It's going to be a different type of team we'll compete against," Mueller said. "You won't really find a team that's just going to give you runs or hand you a few points — everyone's going to have go full-out."

Even though the Hawkeyes will see different types of teams this weekend — and for the rest of Big Ten season — they're not trying change their strategy.

Iowa's team has traditionally been smaller and less physical than the rest of the Big Ten's volleyball programs, but the Hawkeyes plan to use their speed and agility to combat their lack of size against the conference's taller and stronger players.

"We're not going to try to do things drastically different, because we can't," Dingman said. "We're going to win volleyball because of the way Iowa plays volleyball. We're not going to play well against Ohio State if we try to play Ohio State['s style of] volleyball. We're just not built that way."

The key for the Hawkeyes as they prepare to enter Big Ten play is to continue improving, Dingman said. The coach said she's already seen great improvements in her team, but the progress has to continue if Iowa wants a shot at competing in the conference.

"The things we're good at, we just have to keep getting better at," Dingman said. "We're pretty good at serving, but we have to get better at serving. We're good defenders, and now we're going to have to play greater floor defense.

"We're not all of a sudden trying to go above and beyond what we're capable of doing; we just have to continue improve the things we already do well."


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