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Gunderson brings experience, intensity, early impact for Iowa volleyball

BY KYLE MANN | SEPTEMBER 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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Bond Shymansky sought to begin a reformation of the Iowa volleyball program. He wanted to bring in a refreshing, exciting culture to Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and he wanted to recruit impact players. Mikaela Gunderson fit the bill on both counts.

Shymansky said shortly after Gunderson’s commitment to Iowa that he saw an opportunity on the floor for an instant-impact player, and early in the season, Gunderson seems to be exactly what he had hoped for.

The 6-foot middle blocker spent her first two years of college at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, near her hometown of Casco, Wisconsin. When Green Bay made its third coaching change in as many years, Gunderson decided to explore her options elsewhere.

Now, her experience with the Phoenix has made her transition to Iowa much smoother than that of a typical newcomer.

“Mikaela is an experienced Division I player,“ Shymansky said. “With that experience, there’s just no ‘freak-out’ moment. She doesn’t get caught staring at the lights or listening to the crowd heckle her; it’s no big deal to her.”

Gunderson’s composure and experience allowed Shymansky to inject her into the starting lineup from opening weekend, and her play has only increased as the season has progressed.

Following a 4-0 performance and a tournament championship in South Dakota last weekend, Gunderson was named to her first All-Tournament team as a Hawkeye, along with Alessandra Dietz.

Gunderson’s impact has been felt most prominently near the net as a blocker, which has been a strength of the Hawkeyes collectively leading them to an early 8-2 record. Gunderson leads the team with 36 blocks and 1.09 per set.

Additionally, Gunderson’s athleticism brings enough versatility to the offense to keep opposing teams guessing where the next attack will come from.

“She’s a very fast attacker,” Alex Lovell said. “We’ve been having multiple one-foot take-off hitters, and she’s been an addition to that. To have three instead of just one, that’s something that’s really hard for other teams to adjust to.”

One important reason that Gunderson has been able to slide in so seamlessly is that she had experience in Shymansky’s system before arriving on campus. Associate head coach Michaela Franklin was an assistant coach with Shymansky at Marquette, then was Gunderson’s head coach at Green Bay.

Without having to focus so much on learning a new style of play, Gunderson was quickly able to feel acclimated and play another role on the team.

“She understood our system from playing with Michaela [Franklin],” Shymansky said. “She’s also super competitive. She’s very driven. I like people like that; we need that in our program.”

As far as Gunderson is concerned, that’s an essential part of her game.

 “I bring the passion and intensity. I really like to be competitive,” she said. “I’m a competitive person, so that’s what I like to do. I want to be going after it in practice and trying to get everyone else into it.”

Thus far, Gunderson has been everything Shymansky could have hoped for. Her experience with the system has allowed her to be a starter from day one, her attitude is contributing to a refreshing new age of volleyball for the Hawkeyes, and her performance on the floor has been commendable.

“I love the atmosphere, I love what the coaching staff brings to the table,” Gunderson said. “I love the way everybody’s responding. I’m just loving it.”

Follow @KyleFMann on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa volleyball team.


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