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Hawkeyes eager to test improvement

BY KYLE MANN | NOVEMBER 12, 2014 5:00 AM

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It’s time to see just how much better this Iowa volleyball team has become. Riding a four-match winning streak, the Hawkeyes will travel to Penn State today for a match with the No. 4 Nittany Lions.

Penn State visited Iowa City on Oct. 4 ranked third in the nation and defeated the Hawkeyes handily in straight sets. That was the weekend Bond Shymansky threw his rotations into experimentation mode, and the team was largely in a state of instability.

The team has made significant improvements since then, however, and after having settled into a more consistent lineup and rotations, has put together a winning streak that Iowa volleyball hasn’t experienced in a decade.

“We really felt like as a group we laid a pretty big egg two months ago when Penn State rolled into Carver,” Shymansky said. “But I feel like we’re a much more competitive unit now than we were back then.”

Early in the Big Ten season, the team felt it struggled with first contact and not being able to get passes into its offensive system, and the squad also searched for an attacker to step up alongside Lauren Brobst. As the team has started to win, much of that is to the credit of addressing those weaknesses.

“The first contact part of our game has progressed immensely from what it was at the beginning of the year,” Brobst said. “We’re doing a lot better at handling balls in serve-receive than we were.”

By shoring up their ability to initially defend an attack and transition seamlessly into their own, the Hawkeyes have seen a drastic increase in the diversification of the offense around Brobst.

Brobst has averaged more than 14 kills per match during the winning streak, while Alessandra Dietz — who has been solid all season long — has averaged 7.5. Julianne Blomberg, a major contributor to the improved first contact, has also notched a pleasantly surprising 6.5 kills.

The most dramatic differences, however, have been the freshmen right side hitters coming into their own for Shymansky.

Taylin Alm has been playing her best volleyball in recent weeks, and she has been good for an average of 9.5 kills during the streak. Jess Janota hasn’t been far behind, tallying 8.5 per match in the same span.

“I’m glad to be a part of this program while it’s changing,” Dietz said. “It’s great to see some of the freshmen on the team and some of the underclassmen have already gained so much experience and maturity on the court. It’s awesome to see that come together and contribute to our success.”

But Shymansky has been preaching it for two months now: They’re not freshmen. They’re starters and full-blown impact players. As each settles into her role coming down the home stretch, Shymansky sees another opportunity to show how far his team has come and continue the streak against No. 4 Penn State.

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


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