The Hawkeye volleyball team looks to rebound from conference oh-fer
The Iowa volleyball team is coming off a losing weekend against a pair of Michigan teams, and the Hawkeyes are looking to finally break through in the Big Ten and finish a match on a high note.
And for Iowa (8-9, 0-4 Big Ten), any win would be a high note.
“This team is up beat and ready to go,” head coach Sharon Dingman said. “They understand it’s a long season and that there are a lot of matches left to play.”
Iowa closed its nonconference schedule with an 8-5 record but has since endured tough losses to ranked Big Ten teams. Three of the Hawkeyes first four Big Ten opponents were ranked in the top 25 and the fourth, Michigan, received votes.
A win in the Big Ten requires complete focus and an all-around team effort. The Hawkeyes, however, haven’t been able to start matches fast enough and have doomed themselves with inconsistent play.
The Hawkeyes couldn’t find their rhythm until the third set of their last match against then No. 24 Michigan State (25-19, 25-16, 25-22). The Hawkeyes played that set with a purpose and a sense of urgency, but faded as the match went on. Playing with consistency involves continually killing the ball well, which Iowa simply didn’t do.
“In practice [this week] we’ve been working on just hitting the ball harder and placement shots,” sophomore outside hitter Alex Lovell said. “Our kill percentage is what I’m hoping will improve from last weekend to this weekend because we passed well, but the aspect we can most improve on is our hitting and our defense.”
Against Michigan and Michigan State the Hawkeyes didn’t have one player who recorded double-digit kills. Lovell and fellow hitter Erin Radke are looked upon to produce — when both struggle, the offense becomes ineffective.
“I have to try to see around the block and find the open spots [on the court],” Radke said. “Whether I’m swinging as hard as I can or tipping the ball, I need to keep the ball in play and hopefully get some good shots against [Indiana and Purdue].”
The Hawkeyes have worked to overcome their 0-4 start to the conference season, and the team’s bright spot is its depth. In last weekend’s matches the Hawkeyes used three defensive stoppers: senior Allison Straumann, sophomore transfer Katie Kelley, and sophomore Kari Mueller.
“We’re always evaluating,” Dingman said. “We have several people we feel confident putting in at [defensive stopper]. For them, it’s about doing it consistently and who wants to step up.”
No matter when substitutes come in, their hopes are grounded in helping the team win. The energy off the bench will be needed this weekend as the Hawkeyes continue their grueling conference play.
Dingman said the entire team needs to play well all weekend in order for Iowa to finally achieve an elusive Big Ten “W.”
“What were looking to do is to put together a weekend of competing at a high level,” Dingman said. “And being able to carry that on. One of the things we’ve been talking about is being one of the more consistent teams in the Big Ten, but we haven’t shown that yet.”
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