Hawkeyes Eager for 2009 Season

Aug. 7, 2009

IOWA CITY – As Sharon Dingman enters her second season at the helm of the University of Iowa volleyball team, one word seems to be the key for a successful season… consistency.

Dingman and her staff started their careers in Black and Gold on the right path, leading the Hawkeyes to a 14-18 record, which was the best record for an Iowa team since 2000. Now, Dingman is looking for a consistent approach out of her 2009 team, which returns 13 letterwinners from last year’s squad.

“During the spring season, we started playing better volleyball,” Dingman said. “Expectations were raised, both by the staff and the players. Now, we want our team to take a steady approach entering the fall. Efficiency leads to effectiveness, and that’s what we want this season.”

Now in the second year of the Dingman era, the Hawkeyes can focus more on volleyball, and less on getting to know each other.

I thought we did a great job last season of helping each other to make that a smooth transition. Now, we can focus more on volleyball, because the team knows what we as a staff want out of them.”
Head Coach Sharon Dingman

“When any coach takes over a program, there is the transition of learning new things,” Dingman said. “The players are learning a new system, and the coaches have a brand new team to coach. I thought we did a great job last season of helping each other to make that a smooth transition. Now, we can focus more on volleyball, because the team knows what we as a staff want out of them.”

The Hawkeyes do face a tough challenge in replacing last year’s senior class, who led Iowa in nearly every statistical category. Catherine Smale finished the 2008 season with a team-high 380 kills, Kiley Fister paced the team with 1,020 assists, Emily Hiza had a team-best 419 digs and 26 service aces and Laura Kremer finished with a team-high 104 blocks.

Those are hard numbers to replace, but Dingman believes the effort of her 2009 team will help fill those voids.

“I can’t say enough about last year’s seniors,” Dingman said. “They stepped up into some important roles, and helped us to a successful season. But, we also had a lot of other people contribute. They may not have had the numbers the seniors had, but they contributed. Now, we need them to step into leadership roles and carry this team to another successful season.”

Dingman is also excited to add a new assistant coach, Ben Boldt. Boldt comes to Iowa after serving as an assistant coach at Alabama for the past two seasons, and Dingman believes he is a perfect fit for Iowa.

“Ben brings a wealth of experience to this staff,” Dingman said. “His passion and enthusiasm are nearly unmatched in the gym. He has a tremendous amount of energy when it comes to coaching. He has a lot of volleyball knowledge to share.” Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2009 Hawkeye squad.

Middle Blocker Dingman will look to a young, but experienced group of players to hold down the middle blocker position. Leading the way will be junior Katie Kennedy, an Iowa City native. Kennedy battled injuries most of her sophomore campaign, but still led the team with 0.97 blocks per set.

Junior Katie Kennedy

“Katie is finally healthy heading into this season, and it is showing,” Dingman said. “Having surgery not only allowed her to alleviate the physical ailment, but also to learn the game on a different level. The final week of spring, when she could play, she played the best volleyball I had seen her play.”

Redshirt junior Becky Walters is another player who will be a dangerous threat in the middle, now she is healthy. Walters was forced to redshirt her freshman year due to an injury, then tore her ACL near the halfway point of her redshirt freshman season. Walters was able to come back and play in 16 matches last year, but is now displaying her true capabilities, and is ready to contribute

“We expect Becky to be on the court a lot this year,” Dingman said. “Her enthusiasm on the court shows now she is healthy. We need her to be a physical presence for us this year.”

Sophomore Mallory Husz stepped in as a freshman last year while Kennedy was sidelined, playing in 17 matches with five starts. Dingman liked what she saw last year in Husz, and is hoping for more of the same from the sophomore.

“Mallory gained experience as a freshman,” Dingman said. “That helps in terms of development. We are hoping Mallory can take that game experience and turn it into more positives this season.”

Freshman Lauren Freidman will also add depth to the middle blocker position, along with possibly seeing some time at outside or right side hitter.

Outside Hitter Senior Megan Schipper will lead the attack on the outside after a solid junior season. Schipper started all 32 matches in 2008, and was second on the team with 345 kills. Dingman is looking to Schipper to be a strong leader on the court in 2009.

Senior Megan Schipper

“Megan is a steady player with tremendous leadership skills,” Dingman said. “We have some questions when it comes to the outside hitter position, but Megan will help us solidify one of those attacking roles. She established herself in the spring, and we expect great things from her as a senior.”

Sophomore Tiffany Nilges will also see time as an outside hitter. Nilges played in nine matches with two starts as a freshman, and Dingman sees potential in the sophomore.

“Tiffany is showing signs of having a solid year,” Dingman said. “She consistently improved during the spring. She is very bright, and understands the game at the intellectual level. Now, Tiffany needs to develop the physical aspect of her game.”

One player Hawkeye fans will not see on the court this season is junior Megan Eskew, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during the offseason.

“That injury really hurts our depth on the outside,” Dingman said. “Megan trains very hard and loves to be on the court. We are all very disappointed that she suffered this injury.”

Dingman also expects Freidman, along with fellow freshmen Allison Strauman and Iowa City native Emma Krieger Kittle to contribute on the outside as well.

Right Side Hitter Junior Aimee Huffman will be Iowa’s primary right side hitter in 2009. Huffman played in 31 matches with 26 starts, and was third on the team with 213 kills and 63 total blocks.

“Aimee has over a year of starting experience,” Dingman said. “We are anticipating Aimee contributing both offensively and defensively. She has the skills to produce a lot of points for us.”

Dingman also thinks Walters, along with Friedman, could add depth on the right side.

“All of our options on the right side play a different style,” Dingman said. “That will give us a new look.”

Setter Junior Mara Hilgenberg and sophomore Paige Stevens will look to fill the void left by Kiley Fister, who graduated after a solid senior season with 1,020 assists. Hilgenberg played in 19 matches with three starts in her first year at Iowa, after transferring from Indiana last season. She finished with 152 assists, and Dingman likes having an experienced setter in the mix.

Junior Mara Hilgenherg

“Mara has solid college experience,” Dingman said. “She contributed as a freshman at Indiana, and did some nice things for us last year. Mara brings great energy to the court, which is great to have in your setter.”

Stevens played in 10 matches as a freshman, and has made great strides to compete for the setter position.

“Paige really did a nice job of learning our offense even more over the spring,” Dingman said. “She developed her game to another level, and it will be a lot of fun to watch these two setters compete in the fall.”

Libero The Hawkeyes will look to a senior and a junior to step into the libero roll in 2009. Emily Hiza finished her career in Black and Gold just two digs shy of the career record at Iowa, but senior Christina Meister and junior Signe Mueller have the talent to take over the position.

Meister played in 28 matches with two starts, recording 87 digs. Dingman is confident that she will take over a new role as a senior.

“Even though she hasn’t started on a regular basis, Christina does have a good amount of experience,” Dingman said. “She is competitive and fun to watch. We need Christina to play at the highest level possible on a consistent basis this year.”

Mueller, an Iowa City native, is yet another player who had a successful spring, and Dingman believes that put her in a position to compete for the spot.

“Signe really worked hard during spring training and improved greatly,” Dingman said. “She is steady and reliable. Just like at setter, the competition between players will not only be fun to watch, but will make us better as a team.”

Defensive Specialist Juniors Samantha Brannigan and Katie Wessels are looking to gain playing time at the defensive specialist position. Brannigan saw extended playing time as a sophomore, playing in 28 matches. Dingman believes this experience will help her improve as a junior.

“Sam saw the court in some big situations last year,” Dingman said. “Now, we need to get her playing at a higher level more often. Again, consistency is critical.”

Wessels is another player who is back to full-strength, after suffering a serious knee injury during the summer of 2008. She returned to the court late last season, but now Dingman believes a healthy and confident Wessels will contribute even more in 2009.

“Katie really improved once she got back to 100 percent,” Dingman said. It’s fun to watch her play, now that she is healthy. She will give us some depth at the defensive specialist position.”

Freshman Jordanne LeTourneau will also compete for time as a defensive specialist.