Volleyball eyes tough weekend

BY KYLE MANN | OCTOBER 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Iowa volleyball team lost its home-opener last weekend against No. 8 Nebraska, and this weekend isn’t going to get any easier. Coach Bond Shymansky and Company will meet No. 3 Penn State on Saturday and will first play host to the Ohio State Buckeyes today.

The 8-5 Hawkeyes will try to end a three-game skid and capture their first conference win.

Ohio State enters the weekend with a record of 9-5 and, like Iowa, has dropped its first two Big Ten matches to Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Buckeyes are led by 6-2 sophomore middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe, who averages 3.15 kills per set and also leads the team and the Big Ten in blocks with 1.52 per set. Senior outside hitter Erin Sekinger, at 6-3, is also a weapon offensively, collecting 3.16 kills per set.

The Hawkeyes have dropped their last 10 matches against the Buckeyes, last defeating them in Columbus on Oct. 26, 2008.

After the Hawks started the season 8-2 before dropping three in a row, Shymansky now seeks not only to end the losing streak in the series with the Buckeyes but to avoid getting in a rut early in the Big Ten season.

“It’s not a slump as much as it is that we’ve just hit a higher level, higher caliber of opponent now,” Shymansky said. “We know we’re better than the teams that we’ve beaten up to this point, and that’s good; that’s a good start. But now we’re seeing teams that are top 10 or top five.”

Shymansky knew what he was getting into when he accepted the job at Iowa, however, and he knows the level of competition in the Big Ten is something the team is going to have to live with.

“This is the absolute pinnacle of volleyball,” Shymansky said. “So we have a lot of work to get to that point. The things we’re looking for in the short term are stronger willpower and competitive fire on the court. When we’re able to do that, we’ll be able to score points and get into matches. Until we do that, we know we can’t just out-talent a team like Nebraska.”

With that said, Iowa does have talented players on the roster. Seniors Alex Lovell and Alessandra Dietz have played well, with Lovell sixth in the conference at 3.45 kills per set and Dietz fifth in hitting percentage at .406. Freshman Jess Janota has also been effective and is second on the team in kills, but another outside hitter will be counted on to follow a strong performance last weekend.

“I really liked what Lauren Brobst did for us as an attacker [against Nebraska],” Shymansky said. “She didn’t just get kills for us, she dominated kills. She was a bright spot.”

Brobst sounds eager to prove she can be a consistent impact player when the team needs her.

“Whenever there are any times that our team might be struggling, that’s when I really get the urge to try to play harder than I have been,” Brobst said.

The Hawkeyes will need all the help they can get when they face No. 3 Penn State (14-1) on Saturday. Led by All-American Micha Hancock, the Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in both hitting percentage and opponent hitting percentage.

Iowa has shown glimpses of competition against top teams this year, but have been unable to hold on to a lead. That’s a fix the team has identified early on.

“When we get ahead, we enter a zone like ‘We’ll probably keep it,’ ” Alyssa Klostermann said. “That shouldn’t happen. At this level it should be how badly you can kill a team. Whether we’re at point 23 or they’re at point 1, we want to destroy them as best as we could.”

Follow @KyleFMann for news, updates, and analysis regarding Iowa volleyball.

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