Commentary: Statistics not translating to wins for Iowa volleyball


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The volleyball competition within the Big Ten is grueling. The conference has seven teams ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association top 25. Wins are hard to come by for any team, but especially for the Hawkeyes.

The Iowa volleyball team has struggled mightily in recent years against Big Ten competition. The squad hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 1994. Since the start of the 2007 season, the Hawkeyes have gone 15-85 in conference play. This season, Iowa is off to a 0-2 start after facing two ranked opponents on the road.

“I didn’t think we played floor defense particularly well,” head coach Sharon Dingman said about the Hawkeyes performance over the first weekend of conference play. “Where we have struggled the last couple of years is getting kills. Both sides of the ball we have to work on.”

The Hawkeye’s defense has been a question mark to start the season. As of Sept. 19, Iowa had allowed the most kills in the Big Ten. In a league with so many dominant teams, the play on the defensive end has to be exceptional. Even though Iowa has three players with more than 100 digs — Bethany Yeager, Nikki Dailey, and Alex Lovell — they haven’t been able to translate digs into wins.

The offensive side of the ball hasn’t fared much better. So far this season, the Hawkeyes have been slightly out-hit, 788-776, and have committed more errors than their opponents. Playing error-free volleyball is one way the Hawkeyes can improve going into their match against Michigan — which is receiving votes for the top 25 — on Friday. More importantly, Iowa has to do better on capitalizing playable balls over the net. The Hawkeyes have more total attacks than their opponents, 2,262-2,321, but they haven’t been able to consistently win matches.

Heading into Big Ten play last year, the Hawkeyes were an impressive 10-3. But they only managed one win during conference play — against Indiana in five sets. This season, the squad held an 8-5 record before losing to then-No. 23 ranked Ohio State and then-No. 4 Penn State. The Nittany Lions are now the No. 1 team in the country.

The current group of players has been playing with chips on their shoulders this season, and rightfully so. After the brutal 2011 season, many upperclassmen looked to finally achieve the goal they had set out to do when they stepped on campus: Change the culture of Iowa volleyball.

The Hawkeyes have a strong collection of players to build on for the future, but they have struggled in the wins column. Players such as Lovell, freshmen Anne Yanda and Erin Radke, and transfer Alessandra Dietz give Iowa a strong squad for the future. The concern, however, is the now. That’s where the junior class is so crucial for the Hawkeyes going forward.

Yeager and Dailey stand out statistically in the class, but players such as Rachael Bedell and Chanté Thompson also try to help instill a new culture around Iowa City.

The Hawkeyes have endured a rough stretch of volleyball over the past couple of years, but at least the players have begun to shift attitudes.

“It’s tough to go through seasons where we seem to struggle or not win like we want to,” Yeager told The Daily Iowan earlier this month. “We have to keep the goal in mind that we are trying to change a program. We have to motivate ourselves and come to [practice] every day to get better.”

With 18 Big Ten games remaining, the Hawks will have to motivate themselves in order to realize their potential.

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