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Iowa volleyball turns the corner

BY KYLE MANN | OCTOBER 20, 2014 5:00 AM

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Relatively speaking, it was a great week for Iowa volleyball. After dropping its first six Big Ten matches without winning a single set, Iowa came alive in its two matches at home this week — a 3-2 loss to No. 11 Illinois Oct. 15 and a 3-2 win over No. 24 Northwestern Oct. 18.

Going into the game against the Illini, head coach Bond Shymansky felt his team matched up well schematically and would be able to compete.

And remarkably, he was right.

Iowa won its first set in several weeks in stealing the first set, and after dropping the second and third, showed the grit and fight that Shymansky has been looking for when it won the fourth to force a tiebreaker set.

When Iowa fell short in the fifth set, it was all for naught. The team played its best volleyball of the season, but Shymansky doesn’t believe in moral victories and would settle for no less than a victory.

That’s what made the Hawkeyes victory on Oct. 18 so, so sweet.

“The match [Oct. 15] triggered that belief in our group that we can beat anybody in league play,” Shymansky said. “You could see that carry over, and I could feel it pregame in the locker room. I didn’t have to give a pep talk because they were just providing it, and I didn’t have to go through the scouting report; they’d already done it.”

The Hawkeyes indeed seem to have turned a corner, and that was evident from the moment they took the floor against No. 24 Northwestern.

They dropped the first set, but Iowa had a bounce and an energy that had been previously absent. Behind a charge led by freshman Jess Janota, the Hawks responded to claim the next two sets and take their first lead in a Big Ten match.

Janota said she benefited from the offense finally being able to flow as Shymansky and the team would like.

“It just so happened that when the pass was in system, and we were able to get a good set on, I was the open player. So I just tried to focus on being the terminator tonight,” Janota said.

The Wildcats claimed the fourth set, forcing another tiebreaking set for the Hawkeyes. This only offered another opportunity for the team to show its improvement, and this time, it closed the deal.

“I told our team when we went into that fifth set tonight, ‘You are built for this, and you’ve prepared for this, because you have lived it. And this is our time to get it done,’ ” Shymansky said.

Two kills from Janota, a huge kill by Julianne Blomberg, and 4 kills from Lauren Brobst helped the Hawkeyes establish a 2-point cushion, and Iowa did not let victory escape its fingers.

A dramatic rally ended with a Michelle Fuagarino dig, a Kaylee Smith set, and a Janota spike to put the nail in the coffin, 15-13.

The win puts Iowa at 9-10 overall, 1-7 in the Big Ten. But the win represents more than just the first one — it signals more to come.

 “We’ve been working hard and seeing changes every day, but to see it come together and get that first Big Ten W, it’s really great,” Alessandra Dietz said. “All the right pieces are clicking, and we’re just going to keep plugging away.”


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