Iowa volleyball senior changes roles


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In mid-September, Iowa volleyball player Tiffany Nilges switched from outside hitter — the position she had played her entire career — to playing on the right side of the net.

Since making the change, she has registered more than 250 percent more kills per set and 50 percent more digs per set.

In her senior year, she is playing better than ever and is now a go-to player for the Hawkeyes in an otherwise tough Big Ten season.

"Her whole time here, she's wanted to have a huge role in the program, but she hasn't always produced enough to do that," head coach Sharon Dingman said. "She's producing now, and her role is huge. Absolutely huge."

Nilges spiked 13 kills and dug nine balls in a five-set battle with Indiana on Oct. 7, including the match's winning point for Iowa's first Big Ten victory of the season.

Those are solid numbers coming from a position generally known as being more defensive than the outside hitter. An outside plays on the left half of the net and gets more passes, sets, and opportunities to attack; a right-side hitter has more opportunities to block the opponent's active outside hitters and play defensively against them in the backcourt.

Playing on the right also means the right-handed Nilges has to swing across her body, which requires footwork and athleticism — two aspects of the game in which she excels.

Nilges was reluctant to accept the new position when first approached to make the switch in September, but she finally accepted it after much urging from Dingman — and now it appears she has found her niche on the team.

Now, as the Hawkeyes are in the middle of their Big Ten season, Nilges' position and success there are helping Iowa remain consistent offensively and defensively.

"I've always been an outside," Nilges said. "I loved outside more, but [right-side] was my role for this team this year, so I just had to suck it up and embrace it. Now I'm getting more significant playing time so I can to do so much more for our team in this place, and I like that."

She was named MVP of the Iowa Invitational and tallied 30 kills for the weekend coinciding with her Sept. 9 position change — more than double the number she had gathered in the season's previous five games.

Nilges added eight digs against Purdue to her nine against Indiana last week and finished as the weekend's second-highest digger behind libero Bethany Yeager.

"It's awesome to play back there with her," Yeager said. "She gets just about anything that comes her way in the backcourt, along with getting a lot of kills in the front. She can do both."

Dingman said Nilges is more confident than she's ever been. She attributed the shift partly to the number of kills and digs but said it's also because she's finally realized her role on the team.

"Tiff knows herself," Dingman said. "She knows her strengths, she knows her weaknesses … she's more confident now because she's playing better than she ever has. She is absolutely a great thing for our team."

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