Big Red, Big Challenges, Big Opportunities

Oct. 19, 2011

IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa athletic programs have played 23 head-to-head Big Ten contests since the start of the 2011 competition season, but until tonight, none have been against conference newcomer Nebraska. The Iowa volleyball team will become the answer to a future trivia question when the Hawkeyes become the first team in school history to play a conference game with the Cornhuskers. Nebraska hosts Iowa tonight at 7 p.m. inside the NU Coliseum.

“We’re obviously very excited to play in Lincoln,” said Iowa head coach Sharon Dingman. “There is a ton of history in that gym, and it’s a fun place to play because the crowd appreciates good volleyball. They’re very respectful of the game, so you have to enjoy playing in an atmosphere like that.”

The Huskers and Hawkeyes will meet on the Coliseum floor on opposite sides of the conference standings. Nebraska enters the contest 8-0 and tied for first place. Iowa sits in 10th place with a 1-7 record. The history surrounding the programs couldn’t be much different either. While Nebraska volleyball lives in the penthouse, Iowa volleyball is currently undergoing a home renovation.

Dingman is in her fourth year as Iowa’s head of household, and she and her staff have begun building a foundation that includes a promising group of freshmen and sophomores that came to Iowa with national recognition and great expectations. To no one’s surprise, the greatest challenge for the young team has been trying to turn around a program while navigating through the most competitive volleyball conference in the country — seven Big Ten teams are ranked inside the AVCA top 25.

“Adding Nebraska to the Big Ten certainly makes our job harder, but it’s that much harder on everybody in our conference,” said Dingman. “When you add a team like Nebraska, everyone has to get a little better at everything they do. The competition is a good thing, but certainly it is a huge challenge for us.”

Everyone knows what the Husker football program brought to the conference when the Big Ten announced the Big Red would become its 12th league member. But the Nebraska volleyball program adds a star to an already bright volleyball conference. Penn State began its run of four straight national titles in 2007; one year after Nebraska won the program’s third national championship. The Huskers also won national titles in 1995 and 2000, and their 12 Big XII titles are more than any other team in conference history.

“They have a great history,” said Iowa assistant coach Ben Boldt, who spent six seasons inside the Nebraska program as a student and graduate assistant. “One of the first things you notice at the Coliseum is there are banners everywhere. Big Eight and Big XII championships banners cover nearly every year since 1980. It’s a great tradition.”

Ben Boldt’s wife, Angie (Mlinar) Boldt — Iowa’s director of volleyball operations — worked in the Huskers’ volleyball operations department for four seasons. They’ll both be making their first appearance at the Coliseum since leaving Nebraska following the 2006 national title run, but Ben is less interested in the homecoming and more focused on applying the knowledge he learned from Nebraska to his current crop of Hawkeyes.

“I learned quite a bit at Nebraska,” said Ben Boldt. “So the key here is to train what you know and what you’ve learned, and pass it on to the kids in your program. One of Nebraska’s philosophies is recognizing it’s not about just one kid. It’s about developing a program, providing a positive environment and allowing each kid to grow. That’s what we’re trying to do here at Iowa.” and Hawkeye All-Access will stream the first ever Big Ten contest between Iowa and Nebraska live from the NU Coliseum. Both links can be found at on the volleyball schedule page.