B1G, Big Time

Sept. 21, 2012

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Big Ten Conference is known for many things: its traditions, its fans, its athletic success, its academics prowess and its 12 exceptional institutions that call the league home.

You can undoubtedly add another to the list: its volleyball.

The Big Ten has dominated the national scene in recent history. Penn State has won four of the last five NCAA titles. Nebraska claimed the championship prior to the Nittany Lions’ run. Illinois finished as national runner-up last season.

Seven teams are currently ranked in the top 25 (out of 328 Division I programs) and two others are receiving votes.

“We know that every night is going to be a battle,” said junior libero Bethany Yeager. “We are competing against the top teams in the nation. We knew that coming in to play at Iowa and that is what we want. It is an awesome feeling getting to play against the best teams in the nation, night-in and night-out. It is tough every night, but we love it.”

As illustrated, nothing comes easy in the Big Ten, but the Hawkeyes are ready to work.

“The Big Ten is a great conference,” said the lone Iowa senior Allison Straumann. “You always have to grind for a win. On this team, we really emphasize hard work. We are going to be that team that is going to push every other team to its limits. It is a battle every Friday and Saturday night. It takes a lot of courage and hard work on and off the court to make the win happen. We are prepared to do that.”

For the Hawkeyes, the preparation begins early and often.

“You have to be ready for anything your opponent throws your way,” said Straumann. “It is a non-stop process. Nothing comes easy in the Big Ten. You have to prepare throughout the week, and then bring your best skills and energy during the match. A lot goes into it, but it will pay off.”

In a league as rugged as the Big Ten, each point is crucial.

“We have to be ready mentally and physically every single day,” said Yeager, who vaulted from 14th to seventh on the all-time career digs list during the nonconference slate. “We know that we cannot take a point off, a set off, or a night off. The momentum can change at any point. We have to prepare for that. We know we have to have quality practices every day.”

UI assistant coach Ben Boldt started on the Nebraska staff when the Huskers were in the Big 12. He then saw the SEC first hand while serving on the Alabama staff. Now in his fourth year at Iowa, he has a good idea of where the Big Ten ranks.

“No. 1…you do not get a night off,” said Boldt. “We know that. It is just like being in the NCAA tournament for 10-straight weeks. If we play well in conference, we will get a shot at the NCAA tournament, and we will not be intimated by that because we play NCAA tournament teams every weekend.”

For the student-athletes and coaches, nothing tops competing in the nation’s top conference.

“It is an honor,” said Straumann. “It is absolutely incredible. The teams that we play are the best of the best. We have a sense of pride in that. When you step on the court, you realize how good you have it in the Big Ten.”

“It is awesome,” said Yeager. “We came here because we wanted to compete in the Big Ten. It is the best volleyball in the country. We compete against the best every match. We love it.”