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Iowa volleyball seeks consistency at season's end

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | NOVEMBER 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa volleyball teamscored only 51 points against unranked Michigan State on Nov. 4. But less than 24 hours after falling in straight sets to the Spartans, Iowa (11-16, 1-13 Big Ten) managed to bring No. 23 Michigan to five sets and to score 97 times against the Wolverines.

Iowa will take on No. 10 Purdue (22-3, 10-3) tonight in West Lafayette in the Hawkeyes' first match since the near upset over Michigan. The Black and Gold said they will keep their high-level performance against Michigan in mind as the team prepares for the match.

The Hawkeyes have struggled all season to stay consistent in conference matches. If the Hawkeyes can find a level of stability, then "hopefully, [they] can walk away with a win," assistant coach Ben Boldt said.

Iowa hit .179 against Minnesota on Oct. 16, but the next weekend could only manage to attack .046 against Northwestern.

Head coach Sharon Dingman said that when her team experiences a "surprisingly" weak game like it did against the Wildcats, it's usually a result of a lapse in her team's mental toughness.

The Hawkeyes' success — or lack thereof — lies heavily on the way they prepare on game day. Despite having a stable routine on the road — the team always attends a short practice before eating lunch together at Panera and heading to the stadium — Dingman said her team struggles to mentally prepare.

This aspect of Iowa's inconsistency can be frustrating because the athletes' preparation is entirely their own responsibility.

"Their skills aren't changing that drastically from one week to the next or from a Friday night to a Saturday night," Dingman said. "A lot of things that change are choices and how they're taking control. Consistency all comes down to controlling what you can control."

The Hawkeyes might not be able to control how hard Purdue's hitters will attack at the net, but they can be in charge of their defensive strategy, communication, and focus.

"We're going to focus on playing tough defense, because we can control that," Boldt said. "If the ball's out of system, then [keep the ball in play] because the other team will make errors the more they have to play. As long as we play tough defense and give ourselves more chances to swing, the more consistent we can be on offense."

The team is also trying to decrease its risk factor by learning to assess an attacking situation and take smarter hits based on that observation.

Dingman said sophomore Rachel Bedell is still learning when to take offensive risks and when to choose safer attacks.

Bedell hit .050 against Northwestern on Oct. 22, but improved to hit .200 against Ohio State on Oct. 30.

Against Michigan, however, Bedell again hit .050.

Bedell can "hit the crap out of the ball," Boldt said. But the outside hitter has worked hard to decrease her risks this season and use her strong arm with a smarter strategy.

"We try to take too many risks sometimes," Bedell said. "But we're working on it … Be mentally tough, fundamentally sound, and mentally correct — if you keep working on those three things all the time, then consistency will come."

Follow DI volleyball reporter Molly Irene Olmstead on Twitter.


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