Hawkeyes look to capture essence of clutch against Northwestern

BY KYLE MANN | OCTOBER 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Iowa volleyball team will meet Northwestern at 7 p.m. Saturday in Carver-Hawkeye, still searching for its first win in conference play.

The Hawkeyes have dropped eight matches in a row, though the team appears to be inching closer to getting over the hump. That rings especially true this week, with Saturday’s match coming on the heels of a near-upset over No. 11 Illinois Wednesday.

The team won its first set in Big Ten play when it stole the first set from the Illini; it also had its most inspired response to losing a set in set two by taking set three.

The match was tied 2-2 and went to a fifth set, from which the Hawkeyes were unable to emerge victorious. Despite the steps forward in the match against the Illini, the defeat was another case of the Hawkeyes falling just short in clutch time.

That scenario has arisen on several occasions this season, and finishing competitive sets is something head coach Bond Shymansky seeks to improve upon.

“The tight, extra-inning set is a recurring theme for us so far in Big Ten play,” he said. “Sometimes, when you get down there to the end, the ball might bounce in a funny way, but it’s really not up to luck. It’s up to us making the gritty play at the end.”

Shymansky has seen improvement in that respect and believes that will continue and lead to more performances resembling those of Wednesday night.

“I’m watching our group respond better to those high-nerve, high-anxiety situations,” Shymansky said. “We know ultimately it’s going to translate, and it won’t translate to just one set, but we’ll just do it and win two or three sets in a match, and we’ll win the match.”

The Hawkeyes were led, again, by sophomore Lauren Brobst, who seems to have taken over the role of lead attacker for Shymansky. Brobst logged a season-high 18 kills after posting 15 and 13 last weekend.

Brobst has been doing her part as a terminator, as Shymansky put it, but she and most of the team believe that they can alleviate much of their struggles if they can shore up the passing game.

“It just comes back to first contact and serve-receive,” Brobst said. “Coach was talking yesterday, and he said there are little increments when we’ll lose focus for five minutes or so, and that’s where we lose the game.”

As was shown against Illinois, when the Hawkeyes can maintain focus and play through a whole set, they can compete at a high level. Julianne Blomberg believes that the key to the Hawkeyes becoming more clutch is simply engraining in themselves that they must.

“As simple as that sounds, it can be tough for us,” she said. “We look at the scoreboard, and we think ,‘OK, we’re getting close to the end, so the scoreboard will just do it for us.’ But no, we have to earn every one of those points.”

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

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