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Iowa volleyball hopes to pass 'Cats

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | OCTOBER 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa volleyball team fell to Nebraska on Wednesday because it allowed the Cornhuskers to go on a 7-point run and the Black and Gold could never catch up.

Iowa (11-11, 1-8 Big Ten) was neck-and-neck with No. 4 Nebraska midway through the first set, but after the Huskers called a time-out, they returned to dominate with that run and led 18-11.

Senior Tiffany Nilges managed one kill before Nebraska took charge again, capturing 7 of the set's last 9 points to win, 25-14.

Iowa's problem has been a constant this season.

"Our breakdown is becoming our habitual breakdown: serve and pass," head coach Sharon Dingman said.

The Hawkeyes will challenge Northwestern on Saturday, and they hope their struggles to pass and serve won't become an issue against the Wildcats.

Dingman said she was frustrated with Iowa's inability to pass after losing to Ohio State on Sept. 23. After losing to Penn State on Sept. 24, Dingman said Iowa's passing arms "completely fell apart." After losing to Purdue on Oct. 8, she said Iowa made "egregious" service errors.

"Pass-serve is definitely a huge part of our game — it's what wins games," libero Bethany Yeager said. "Whenever they get on a good streak of serves and we can't pass, they get on a run … That definitely gets us into trouble. And then when we finally get a point, and we go back and miss our serve, that takes all our momentum away. We struggle with that."

The Wildcats, who enter Saturday's match with a 10-10 record, 1-8 in the Big Ten, are close competition for Iowa. The NCAA rating percentage index ranks Iowa at No. 111 and Northwestern at No. 112.

But Dingman said Northwestern has strong servers and one especially strong outside hitter — Stephanie Holthus — who could pose problems for the Hawkeyes.

Dingman said the Wildcats can override any passing issues they may have by setting the ball up for Holthus, who can manage a kill even when the Hawkeyes are expecting her to get the ball.

"Who wins serve and pass almost always wins the volleyball match — unless you have ways to get out of it," Dingman said. "We don't."

Freshman Alex Lovell is a key player for every match Iowa plays in, Dingman said, but Lovell hit negative-.081 against Nebraska — although that number was better than senior captain Megan Eskew's negative-.222.

"It's not frustrating to see [serve and pass] emerging as a pattern, but we know we need to work on it and we need to fix it," junior defensive specialist Allison Straumann said. "We do a good job at recovering. As soon as we finish a match, we're always thinking about what's coming next — the next day or the next practice."

Northwestern has taken sets away from Minnesota, Purdue, Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State — teams that beat Iowa in straight sets.

With only two practices between the defeat in Lincoln and Saturday's game, Iowa has to focus to correct its faults in order to challenge Northwestern. The Wildcats have only won eight of its last 35 sets, but Iowa has three wins in its last 30 sets.

"Can we fix everything overnight, and suddenly become a team we're not?" Dingman said. "Certainly not, and that's not what we're looking to do."


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