Iowa volleyball needs its seniors for more than wins


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Iowa volleyball senior student coach Paige Stevens hasn't played a single minute this year because of a nagging hip injury. Megan Eskew is 23 years old and in graduate school. Tiffany Nilges recently got engaged. Mallory Husz and the rest of her senior class have only five games left in their college careers.

After Iowa's 3-2 loss to Purdue last night, the Hawkeyes (11-17, 1-4 Big Ten) are officially incapable of finishing .500 for the season and their hopes for an NCAA Tournament qualification are dashed for good.

And yet, the Hawkeye seniors continue to get the most playing time. Nilges, Husz, and Eskew played in all five sets last night against the Boilermakers.

Head coach Sharon Dingman said the idea of substituting younger players in the seniors' spots in the effort to start developing them for next year has never even crossed her mind.

"We're still trying to win matches," Dingman said. "Our seniors are going to help us win matches, and that's why we're playing them. I want this to be the best three weeks of their career, and I want them to finish their seasons in a fantastic way, but this isn't really about the fact that they're seniors. We just want to win."

Husz has racked up a team-leading 83 blocks this season. Eskew has tallied 238 kills, and Nilges has recorded 192 spikes on the season.

But despite the seniors' game-time dominance, they see their end-of-season playing time as a gift of respect from Dingman.

"I think it goes to show how much Sharon cares about us and us having a good final end of our career," Husz said. "We've worked so hard for so far — almost four whole years — and it just goes to show that she really wants us finish hard and be able to look back and see that we did something for Iowa."

Dingman said she is remarkably proud that her senior class is "not going to let [their] team to anything but continue to fight," even as the schedule dwindles down.

Husz said one of her goals set at the beginning of the year was to establish herself as a strong team leader. She's thankful for the last three weeks of the season so she can continue to develop that role.

"On the court I wanted to be someone I wanted my teammates to look up to, and to help them calm down before the next point, or help them smile during practice," Husz said. "And I feel like I've reached that goal, but I still want to do more."

Nilges said one of her goals at the beginning of the season was to continue to play her best in the last five weeks of her last season. The senior right-side hitter has recorded at least eight kills in three of her last four games.

She said the seniors act as a "glue that holds the team together" and the seniors still have work to do before sending off the underclassmen to play on their own.

"When we need a big kill or a big dig, I feel that it's the seniors that everyone looks at," Nilges said. "We've had the experience, we know what to do, and we know how to carry ourselves when we're under pressure."

Dingman agreed and said the seniors are a crucial element of the team that can't be replaced just yet — not even off the court. And they won't be replaced until the NCAA deems them ineligible after four seasons.

"What you don't see is how important our seniors are everyday at practice," Dingman said. "On road trips, in the locker room. Outside of not winning as much, we have had an enjoyable season — and I think part of that is because our older players have chosen to stay engaged with the team."

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