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Iowa volleyball prepares to stay mentally tough

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | NOVEMBER 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa volleyball team brought it last three matches to five-set battles — and lost each, even after jumping to 2-0 leads against Purdue on Nov. 10 and Indiana on Nov. 12.

Iowa hasn't won since early October, and the squad now has an 11-18 overall record, 1-15 in the Big Ten, as they prepare to challenge Wisconsin and No. 19 Minnesota in Carver-Hawkeye Arena this weekend.

The preparation is more mental than anything else.

Defensive specialist Alison Straumann said the Hawkeyes' problem is that they come out strong in the first two sets but then lose focus and struggle to finish out the game.

"We've been talking about refocusing after we get in a little funk after the game, just to focus on the next ball and go back to fundamentals," she said. "We got a little shaken in the last few games because we didn't know how to do that."

Iowa won the first two sets, 25-22, against then-No. 10 Purdue but started to lose focus. The Hawkeyes lost sets three and four, 25-15. Purdue then clinched the victory by dominating, 15-6, in the fifth.

Halftime — a 12-minute break between sets two and three — has challenged the Hawkeyes so far this year.

"We're trying to figure out a way because we didn't come out in the third set the same way that we came out in the first two," senior captain Megan Eskew said. "It's finding a way to refocus and channel the same focus we had in the first set when we go out in the third set."

Straumann said she thinks Iowa might play better without the break between sets two and three because her team has been unable to create a routine that maintains its level of focus and energy during that 12 minutes.

Head coach Sharon Dingman said the easiest way to keep up the energy up is to remind the team of what went well in the first two sets.

"It's a matter of keeping them locked into the right things — all the things that we did right up to that point," she said. "Remind the players all the things that we were executing up to that point. How did we get up 2-0, how did we get up 2-1? And to not lose sight of that."

Despite struggling after the second set, Straumann said, her team's mental toughness has improved during the season. The Hawkeyes have played three consecutive five-set games in the midst their 11-game losing steak, and they hope to maintain their mental edge as they battle the Golden Gophers and Badgers this weekend.

"If going to five sets is what it's going to take to win, that's what we're going to do," Dingman said. "We'd love to be able to beat someone in three, but we haven't proven to be that kind of team all year. We're going to grind it out, we're going to dig and we're going to extend rallies and we're going to do all those things that tend to bring games to five."


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