Final homecoming for 3 Iowa seniors in Michigan

BY KYLE MANN | OCTOBER 10, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Iowa volleyball team is back on the road after two weekends at home, and it will travel north for a pair of matchups in the Great Lakes state. The team will face Michigan at 6 p.m. today, followed by Michigan State at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Though those two teams are still respectable teams in the Big Ten, this weekend presents a much-needed opportunity for the Hawkeyes to end their five-match losing streak competing against not-so-elite competition.

After first facing No. 8 Nebraska, followed by a No. 3 Penn State, Iowa (8-7, 0-4) now finds itself taking on 9-6 MSU and 6-8 Michigan. With that said, Iowa hasn’t defeated Michigan since 2010 or Michigan State since 2009, and neither team on the road since beating both in October 2000.

Bond Shymansky and his team would love nothing more than to end their losing skid, but three seniors on the team have an extra motivation to play well this weekend.

Hawkeyes Alessandra Dietz, Alex Lovell, and Erin Leppek are from Michigan, and this weekend will be their last appearances in their home state as college athletes. It will be an emotional weekend for the them, but their goal and focus is unwavering.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Lovell said. “But I’d like nothing more than to just go up to Michigan and sweep them, just take it to them right there.”

Whether it’s the last time or any of the several times they’ve played in Michigan up to this point, there’s always a little something extra going on when returning home.

“We’ve played there quite a few times before, so it’s pretty familiar,” Leppek said. “But it’s always nice to get to see your friends and family who don’t necessarily get to Iowa very often to see you.”

This is perhaps the first, most notable instance of a finality occurring for 2014’s seniors. In their final season as collegians, however, the players are aware of the time ticking away and are embracing the experiences while they still can.

“Starting off in preseason, the first home match, travel trips, and playing in my favorite Big Ten arenas for the last time; there’s a lot of moments I’d like to take advantage of,” Dietz said. “I’d love to come out of every Big Ten match with a win, but this one hits closer to home. All three of us are going to have a lot of family there, and it’s just a big match.”

The Hawkeyes will continue to rely heavily upon Lovell and Dietz if they wish to capture their first conference win of the season but also will need to regain a sense of stability on the court that was somewhat disrupted last weekend.

Shymansky had been running a 6-2 offense prior to the matches against Ohio State and Penn State, when he made several lineup changes and switched to a 5-1 system. Shymansky said Hawkeye fans can expect to see more “evaluating” of the team this weekend as well.

“We continue to tweak the lineup and look for the players that are going to make impacts at the right moments,” he said. “I think we’ll continue to see players developing and expanding their current roles.”

Lovell, who was in the lineup adjustments last weekend, says her time on the sideline intensified her appreciation for playing, particularly leading into her final homecoming.

“Especially after this last weekend, it kind of hit home for me,” Lovell said. “The number of chances to get out there is decreasing rapidly, and it’s a constant reminder to keep bringing it every day.”

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

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