Iowa volleyball blockers face challenge
Senior middle blocker Mallory Husz will start in Iowa's volleyball matches against No. 14 Minnesota and Wisconsin this weekend, but the second starting middle position is still up in the air.
Freshmen Emily Yanny and Erin Leppek and sophomore Chante' Thompson continue to compete for the position as head coach Sharon Dingman tries to find a second consistent starter for the Hawkeyes' middle.
Iowa (11-8, 1-5 Big Ten) will compete against Minnesota (10-5, 3-3) today, followed by Wisconsin (11-7, 3-3) on Oct. 16.
Both the Golden Gophers and Badgers have strong middles, and Dingman said this will make it a challenging weekend for Iowa's inconsistent middle team.
"We've got to see more production from our middles — both offensively and blocking, for sure," she said. "All four middles that we'll see [from the opponents] this weekend are playing well, so it's going be a good challenge for us."
While Husz has played consistently this season, the three underclassmen in the position struggle with consistency.
Yanny is strong offensively but has problems blocking. Leppek is a strong blocker, but has trouble hitting the ball as hard as she needs to. Thompson's offense and defense are good, but she's still developing her speed and transitions, Husz said.
"[Coach Dingman] right now is just trying to figure out what works best for the team," Thompson said. "It's hard on her as well, because we're all fighting hard every day in practice for that position. She just has to find one of us that's consistent every day and in the games."
The middles blockers as a whole — Husz included — have struggled with their consistency so far this season. The middles' attacks are strong at times, but then their blocking is lackluster. At others, the block is solid but they don't contribute offensively.
Now, the Hawkeye middles need to figure out how to do both.
"[We need to] be consistent and make a presence on the floor," Thompson said. "Just make the other team aware that we're a part of the team and that we're not just an outside-hitting team — that the middles can do just as well as our outsides can."
Although Minnesota and Wisconsin's middles are strong, the Hawkeyes have spent this week in practice preparing to challenge them.
Minnesota's primary middle is a "strong, slow hitter," Husz said. The Hawkeye senior is relatively small in stature — she stands 6-0 — and will use her speed to combat Minnesota's hard-hitting powerhouse.
The Hawkeyes will dig her attacks from the right side of the net and quickly set up a kill for Husz, hopefully fast enough that the Minnesota blocker won't be able to get back in time to set up a block.
"Everyone has a weakness — we do, too — and it's just about exploiting those areas and that's something I'm going to have to do," Husz said. "I'm not a huge middle, but I'm an athletic middle. So I definitely have to exploit that part of Minnesota and Wisconsin and benefit from it."
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