Hawkeyes hope to find winning recipe against Illinois

BY KYLE MANN | OCTOBER 15, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Iowa volleyball team will have its first midweek home match of the season at 8 p.m. today, hosting Illinois in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The Illini enter the match at 12-5 overall, 4-2 in the Big Ten, including a triumphant victory over Penn State on the road in their last match, Oct. 11. No. 11 Illinois also joins Nebraska and Penn State as top-25 teams Iowa has faced.

“Illinois is a hot team right now coming off a road win at Penn State; something they haven’t done in decades,” Iowa head coach Bond Shymansky said. “They’re big and physical at the net and exceptionally long.”

The Illini attack is headlined by 6-2 outside hitter Jocelynn Birks, who is third in the Big Ten with 4.08 kills per set. The redshirt junior is also second on the team with 2.59 digs per set.

Illinois is, like so many Big Ten teams, a very talented squad. With that said, however, Shymansky sees opportunity for his Hawkeyes to thrive in this matchup.

“They’re a team that we can pass well against,” Shymansky said. “We’ve shown this; when we can get in system, we can play with anybody. So we’re looking for another good performance as a serve-receive team.”

There have been a lot of adjustments made to the lineup recently in order to focus some attention on that serve-receive game, and one of the beneficiaries has been defensive specialist Kari Mueller. The senior has received several starts in recent matches and provides a stabilizing effect in the back row.

“I bring a competitive aspect and also a calming aspect when our team gets really frantic,” she said. “That’s something I’ve really embraced is when the team gets chaotic, I try to just lay it out there in a calming manner.”

Shymansky has lauded Mueller for her ball-control skills and says her experience as a senior helps her to be a leader on the floor.

Also among those who have found more time on the floor as lineups and game plans are shuffled, junior Julianne Blomberg started last weekend. The outside hitter/defensive specialist also provides ball control, and she hasn’t been discouraged by the results in this period of evaluation.

“I don’t know if I would call it a skid, or more of right now we’re trying to find what’s going to work for us,” Blomberg said. “We have a lot of new things coming together; we’re just trying to find what clicks.”

Amid the experimentation during the recent weeks, it does appear that the Hawks are getting closer to “clicking.” They have been competitive on several occasions versus top teams, including last weekend.

Given that growing improvement, the string of losses to begin conference play is slightly different from droughts in past seasons.

“It’s different than previous years because we know that, somewhere, we have something that’s going to win,” Blomberg said. “It’s just finding it.”

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

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