Home Improvement

Aug. 18, 2006

Senior leadership, an abundance of talented young players, and a team hungry for success could be exactly what Cindy Fredrick has been looking for since taking the helm of the Iowa Volleyball program three years ago. After two seasons of starting strong, but fading during Big Ten play, Fredrick is excited and optimistic about the upcoming season.

During her first two seasons, the teams have jumped out quickly to 8-4 and 10-3 records, but the tough competition in the Big Ten completely shutdown all momentum with the teams finishing 10-22 and 14-19. After a talented, yet inexperienced freshmen class was thrust into starting roles in 2005, the time on the court has appeared to pay dividends as the team approaches the 2006 season with a lot optimism. Fredrick is looking for her team to step up their game.

“I think this group is a lot more competitive and there’s more talent on the team,” Fredrick said. “They have a good, serious mission right now. They’re very committed and they’re very dedicated to being winners. I think those expectations are there. The kids have real high expectations of themselves and they want to improve. They want to see things get better for Iowa volleyball.”

In a conference with five top 25 teams, turning around a program in a hurry may not be the easiest thing in the world, but the players appear to be up to the challenge. Not only is an above .500 record for the season a goal, but the team wants to become a force in the Big Ten.

“You can have a lot of players that say, `gee, we’d really like to be that,’ but this is a group that says, `gee, we really want to work to get there,'” said Coach Fredrick. “They hold each other accountable for things and expect a lot from each other. That’s the difference. If they’re accountable to each other, they’re going to get things done and that’s when they’re going to come through with some good wins in the Big Ten.”

With a big chip on their shoulders and a coach who has a history of building programs from the ground up, the Hawkeyes could be the surprise of the Big Ten this year.

“I think that these kids are looking to say `you know what, we can be that underdog that pulls those upsets,'” said a confident Fredrick. “A lot of people would say that my career has been a career of making a living off being an underdog and I love being an underdog. Yeah, if they pick us to be last or second to last place in the Big Ten, I’m really happy with that because there’s no where to go but up. These kids will take that as a direct challenge.”

The team’s biggest strength heading into the season is their depth. Last year, they lost one player and the season went downhill. This season, the team has three strong outside hitters, five solid middle hitters, three right side hitters and two setters. With talented recruiting classes the past two years, Fredrick has built a good young program, but she is still relying on the three seniors for their leadership.

Senior returnees Melanie Meister and Tiana Costanzo are both looking to help the 11 underclassmen feel comfortable and lead them in the direction that Coach Fredrick wants the program to go. The seniors have laid the foundation for the Hawkeye program to grow in the future. It’s a good feeling, especially for Costanzo, who is now entering her fourth and final season in the program.

“It’s kind of a nice way to go out,” said Costanzo. “Honestly, after my freshmen year I wouldn’t have expected it to be like this my senior year so it’s actually really exciting.”

The third senior that will be relied on will be a former recruit of Fredrick’s at Washington State. Jen Barcus was a stellar player at WSU, but decided to transfer to Iowa where she’ll now finish her collegiate career under the coach that she started her career under.

Also returning are Catherine Smale, Kiley Fister and Emily Hiza, who all started last year during their first year with the Hawkeyes.

“As a freshmen coming in, I didn’t really know what it was going to be like,” said Fister who had a successful first year as the Hawkeyes setter. “I was going to work hard, but I know what to expect. I know where I’m at now, so I’m ready to work hard and push it up a level.”

The experience that the players gained throughout the year is one reason for Fredrick’s optimistic outlook. Although still young, Hiza will be taking a leadership role on the team after being named co-captain with Meister.

Another young player expected to contribute is freshmen Alicia Johnson, who enrolled at Iowa in the spring. Although she entered the program after being the only athlete to win the Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year award twice, she still knows that she has a lot to work on.

“I’m just gonna leave my past behind me and work on what I need to work on to improve our team,” said Johnson. “I have a lot of high goals, but I know it’s going to come with a lot of hard work.”

Johnson will likely see early action while junior Stacy Vitali recovers from off-season shoulder surgery. Vitali expects to back for the start of the Big Ten season.

“It’s been going really well,” said Vitali about the recovery process. “I rehabbed everyday over the summer and when I can’t be in a drill here I do rehab. I also do rehab before and after practice, so it’s going really well. The doctor said I’m way ahead of schedule.”

Whether it’s through the seniors or the team’s amount of depth and talent, Coach Fredrick is looking to turn the corner with the Iowa volleyball program and start making strides toward becoming a good team within the talented Big Ten Conference.

By Josh Mitchell, Iowa Sports Information