No out-working the Hawkeyes

Aug. 20, 2008

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — There are several changes this season in the sport of college volleyball. First, games are now referred to as sets. Instead of going to 30 points, all sets will now be played to 25. Teams will also be limited to 12 substitutions per set.

Those changes are definite. If sound bytes were gospel, then first-year University of Iowa head coach Sharon Dingman has another — more Hawkeye specific — change in store this season: more victories.

“We want to win and we’re going to win,” Dingman said at the UI media day press conference inside the Press Room at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “Winning will be our first measure of success.”

Last season Iowa was 9-22 overall, 1-19 in the Big Ten Conference. The Hawkeyes went 8-3 during the nonconference portion of the schedule and two of those losses were to No. 17 Brigham Young and No. 21 LSU. Thirteen letterwinners return and earlier this week the Hawkeyes added a transfer in sophomore setter Mara Hilgenberg, who played last season at Indiana.

“We have great depth,” Dingman said. “Depth is really key. We’ve been in camp now two weeks and we’re ready to see somebody on the other side of the net. It’s been a very, very productive two weeks. We’re playing a lot of volleyball, the coaches are evaluating and the players are playing. It’s been a great camp.”

Dingman walked the media through a brief position-by-position summary that supported the UI depth situation. At setter are Hilgenberg, senior Kiley Fister, junior Christina Meister, sophomore Aimee Huffman and freshman Paige Stevens. There will be five middle blockers when sophomore Becky Walters returns from an ACL injury. The others are senior Laura Kremer, sophomore Katie Kennedy and freshmen Mallory Husz and Joanna Giampoli. If there is a `thin’ area on the Iowa roster it is at outside hitter. That is also a position that features some of the team’s most productive players.

“The only way to put it is that (junior) Megan Schipper is just owning our gym right now,” Dingman said. “She’s playing at a pretty high level and has clearly separated herself from a physical standpoint.”

Other outside hitters include senior Catherine Smale, who is bouncing back from an ankle injury, sophomores Megan Eskew and Katie Wessels and freshman Tiffany Nilges. Sophomores Samantha Brannigan and Signe Mueller play defensive specialist and senior Emily Hiza is a libero.

Dingman was impressed with the fitness level displayed by the Hawkeye team, with a majority spending the entire summer in Iowa City working out. Because of that, she said the coaching staff hasn’t had to exhaust excess time and energy getting the players into competitive shape.

“We won’t lose matches because we get out-worked,” Dingman said. “If we lose matches it’s going to be because the other team is better. I don’t think we’ll ever be out-worked by another team.”

Injuries took their toll on the Hawkeyes a year ago. With the individual players on the mend and the experience that exists…

“There’s talent here,” Dingman said. “Our staff walked into a pretty nice situation. This team has more experience in the Big Ten than the coaching staff does. I’m saying that in a very positive way. Our expectations are that we need to win and we’re going to win.”

Iowa opens the season Aug. 29 against Nicholls State at the Hampton Inn/Bama Bash in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Hawkeyes play Western Kentucky and the host Crimson Tide on Aug. 30.

Pleasant surprise in the middle — Dingman calls freshman middle blocker Joanna Giampoli “one of the greatest surprises in camp.” Giampoli, who stands 6-feet-1, is from Hinsdale, Ill. (Hinsdale South High School).

“She’s very, very physical and she’s fun,” Dingman said. “She plays the game at a much higher level than a lot of freshmen play the game. She just knows volleyball and we’re very excited about that.”

Giampoli is adjusting well to the pace of the collegiate game.

“It’s faster than club and high school volleyball,” she said. “It’s a lot more intense. You have to give 110 percent in every drill you do and you can never relax.”

Giampoli’s sister also attended the University of Iowa and participated in rowing.

“I’m so excited,”Giampoli said. “It’s been my dream to play Iowa volleyball. I fell in love with it.”

Another rookie on the outside — Tiffany Nilges, a 5-11 freshman from Tripoli, Iowa, is helping make a thin group of outside hitters a little deeper.

“She’s a really, really nice athlete,” Dingman said. “Big jump, fast and we’re pretty excited about her being in a Hawkeye uniform for the next four years.”

A Hilgenberg on the court, not the gridiron — In the history of athletics at the University of Iowa, there have been six Hilgenbergs that lettered in football. Now there is a volleyball player. Mara Hilgenberg is the son of Jay, who played for the football Hawkeyes from 1977-80 and was a first-team all-Big Ten center in 1979.

“My whole family basically went here and I’m just following the Hilgenberg tradition to Iowa,” said Mara, who took an official recruiting visit to the UI while in high school. Last season Hilgenberg played in all 117 sets for Indiana and led the Hoosiers with 1,402 assists.

To view 15 photos from Wednesday’s media day, click HERE .