Iowa volleyball falls to Northwestern in fifth-straight loss


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The Iowa volleyball team lost its fifth-straight match and 15th-straight set when the Hawkeyes lost, 3-0, to Northwestern on Oct. 22 (16-25, 11-15, 18-25). Iowa (11-12, 1-9 Big Ten) has won only four of 35 sets in conference play this season.

Iowa's problems weren't hard to pinpoint against the Wildcats: Breakdowns in the team's focus, communication, and execution led to the loss.

"It was a really disappointing performance," head coach Sharon Dingman said. "We made a bad choice to come out as flat as we did."

Dingman said her team didn't make smart decisions in the way it mentally and physically prepared for the game, and those mistakes affected Iowa's ability to focus.

"This was a team choice, the way we started," she said. "There wasn't a player out there who was ready to compete — not a single player at the start of the match."

The Hawkeyes' lack of focus led to an inability to communicate, as balls repeatedly dropped onto Iowa's court with no one attempting to make a play.

Northwestern's blocking proved troublesome for the Hawkeye frontcourt. When Iowa failed to hit over or around the block, the ball deflected into the Black and Gold court and fell to the ground at the feet of the Hawkeyes hitters and blockers. The Wildcats tallied 12 blocks, compared to Iowa's one.

Sophomore libero Bethany Yeager said she noticed communication errors in the backcourt as well.

"We need to get mentally prepared before every game, every practice," Yeager said. "We need to get ready to work, and we've got to know that when we're practicing it's not just for skills — we've got to work on communication, our mental aspect."

In addition to a lapse in communication, Iowa struggled to collect kills and managed only 29 spikes and a .046 attack percentage. In contrast, Northwestern tallied 42 kills and a .231 percentage.

Freshman Alex Lovell played in all three sets but recorded a negative hitting percentage in each. She finished with an average of negative .079; Lovell also hit negative against Nebraska on Oct. 19.

Senior outside hitter Tiffany Nilges also hit negative (-.400) for the match, and five of seven Hawkeyes recorded a kill hit below their season average.

The Hawkeyes and Wildcats battled in a long rally in the third set with Iowa down 23-18, a rally in which the ball traveled to each team four times. But instead of finishing off the rally with a strong kill, Lovell hit out of bounds to the back corner of the court, and Northwestern won the point.

The match then ended with two more successive Wildcats points, from a kill and a stuffed block.

Lovell said her errors weren't necessarily coming from an attempt to make harder and more complex plays but instead grounded in "focus and execution."

"You're sort of aware of [hitting poorly] during the game, but definitely once the game is over and you see you hit negative, you start to look at what you did wrong," Lovell said. "Sometimes you can get better by fixing just one shot, but sometimes it's a bigger problem like not being prepared."

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